Budapest’s Youth Spearhead Proud Jewish Revival

Whilst many Jews in Hungary are still apprehensive about displaying their Judaism publically, a new generation seeks to change the status quo with proud Jewish leadership.

In the heart of Budapest, a city that’s seen its fair share of Jewish persecution, a wave of youthful Jewish pride and growth is taking place. A huddle of enthusiastic young ladies gathers in a labor of love, meticulously planning a meaningful experience for their students—a Shabbaton for 40 Hungarian children on the beautiful CKids campgrounds at Lake Balatan.

Whilst many Jews in Hungary are still apprehensive about displaying their Judaism publically, in what may be seen as generational trauma from the Holocaust and subsequent persecution, the new generation seeks to change the status quo.

The Jewish community has seen a massive increase in the interest of Jewish people, young and old, in their heritage. A vast array of Jewish experiences are on offer, including Old synagogues being reopened, Jewish schools from Preschool through High School, Shiurim for men and women, and CKids for boys and girls. As a prelude to the upcoming CKids summer camp, the youth leaders had the idea of arranging a Shabboton, giving the next generation a taste of the Jewish warmth they were grateful to experience as kids.

The youth leaders are a group of high school and college students, all graduates of and now teachers at Chabad’s Hebrew School, which has been operating in the city for over ten years. Mrs Chaya Greenberg explains, “The staff members have been on the receiving end of Chabad’s many youth programs themselves. Now they are very passionate about being able to transmit the values and lessons which they have been so lovingly taught.” Many of them attend the Bet Menachem Chabad Day School.

This group of high-school-kids-turned-madrichot took on the responsibility of scheduling a unique Shabbaton. It featured a grand game of Mitzvah-poly, a Jewish twist on Monopoly, where players can travel the board and purchase various Jewish landmarks around Hungary by committing to Mitzvot or time spent learning Torah. Fully developed by the Madrichot, the game proved to be a big hit among the campers.

Coming from the same background as the kids enable Madrichot to connect on a personal level. “As I grew up attending CKids, which was then called Alef Kids every Sunday, I always felt that I belonged to the Jewish community and that I was a part of something bigger than I am. What I want to demonstrate to the kids is that they should never doubt that they have a place in the world and that, as Jews, we are united.” Petra Nagy, one of the madrichot who currently studies at the EMIH Jewish Community-run Maimonides High School, explains. “I want the kids to feel like I did. Accepted, appreciated, and loved. I got so much from the Jewish community here in Hungary, and I want to give back as much as I can.”

The Shabbaton gave the children an opportunity to demonstrate the lessons they’d learned in Hebrew school in an organic Jewish environment. Dimitry, aged 10, joined the Hebrew School 6 months ago and had never spent a night away from home before, yet he arrived excitedly on Friday morning wearing his Yarmulka and Tzitzit, saying he wouldn’t think of coming without them. The Hebrew school has had a ripple effect on the whole family, bringing them all closer to their Jewish heritage.

“In addition to providing a fun Jewish experience in the present, the long-term goal of CKids is to educate the future leaders, empowering them to pass their knowledge on to the next generation,” says Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, Executive Director of Merkos 302. “The madrichot in Hungary have exemplified this vision, a positive step towards the continued growth of Jewish life despite all odds.”

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