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Peter Feldmajer, president of the Mazsihisz Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, told JTA that the Jewish percentage of Hungarian emigrants perfectly matches the Jewish percentage of the larger population.
“Jews are leaving due to the economy, not anti-Semitism,” Feldmajer said. “This worries me not only for Jews but the whole of Hungary.”
Other prominent Hungarian Jews, however, allow that anti-Semitism may play a role, if not the definitive one, in encouraging Jews to leave.
“The Hungarian Jewish community is vibrant and strong, but many are leaving,” said Zsuzsa Fritz, director of Budapest’s Balint Jewish Community Center. “It’s mostly because of the financial situation, together with the fact that the climate is not very nice for Jews if Judaism plays an important part in their lives.”
The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, a Chabad-affiliated body, said in statement that it “could not rule out that the increasingly anti-Semitic sentiment may factor heavily in the minds of those who leave,” though Jewish emigration from Hungary was “by no means massive.”
Massive or not, the emigration has piqued the interest of Viennese Jewish leaders, who long have hoped that an influx of foreign Jews would revive the community’s sagging numbers and enable it to sustain an extensive communal infrastructure of schools, synagogues and old-age homes.
Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish community of Vienna – known locally as IKG – said last month that Hungarian anti-Semitism was driving Jewish immigration to Vienna. The community has set up a program to help assimilate – and lure – the newcomers, including language courses, help in finding employment, housing and Jewish education.
IKG is prepared to extend such help to 150 families annually from different countries, including Hungary. Deutsch’s predecessor, Ariel Muzicant, told JTA in December that 20 Hungarian families were preparing to leave or had recently arrived in Vienna.
“We believe, and our statistics show this, that our Jewish community will cease to exist if we do not have Jewish immigration in the coming years,” Deutsch said.