Young Hungary Jews Push for Slice of Communal Pie

Feuds With Umbrella Group Over Tight Funding

What About Us: Volunteer hands out programs at a Holocaust remembrance event. Young Jews say their groups should get a piece of funding alongside activities of the main umbrella group.
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What About Us: Volunteer hands out programs at a Holocaust remembrance event. Young Jews say their groups should get a piece of funding alongside activities of the main umbrella group.

By Cnaan Lipshiz

Published July 02, 2014.
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(JTA) — Peering through dusty apartment widows isn’t an uncommon pastime in this capital city’s crime-infested 8th District, with its many drug addicts and alcoholics seeking for a fix.

But Adam Schoenberger wasn’t scouting for a place to rob on his peeping tour of the district earlier this month.

An activist who recently moved his Jewish organization’s headquarters into the neighborhood to save on rent, Schoenberger was looking for the small apartment synagogues that persist in the area despite its few Jewish residents.

Eventually Schoenberger spotted a Star of David hanging on the wall of a ground-floor apartment on Nagyfuvaros Street. Around the corner he found another small synagogue behind a heavy, locked metal gate.

The synagogues are maintained by Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, which controls hundreds of little-used real-estate assets across Hungary. The synagogue on Nagyfuvaros Street serves a congregation of fewer than 20 people. A nearby shul on Teleki Ter normally opens on Shabbat, though not always with the prayer quorum of 10 Jewish men.

“Some of the money that maintains inactive synagogues and other heritage real estate would have much more impact if it were spent on supporting the grassroots Jewish scene, which lacks the funding to really blossom,” Schoenberger said.

To Schoenberger, the community’s continuing support for such synagogues — not to mention some 1,300 cemeteries across the country — reflects the misplaced priorities of Hungary’s Jewish leadership, which preserves such facilities even as it provides little support for the country’s vibrant Jewish youth scene.

Schoenberger is a founder of Marom, whose 13 employees and network of 100 volunteers operate the Budapest bar and cultural center Siraly, run an annual Jewish festival and does outreach to the beleaguered Roma minority in Hungary, yet receive no funding from the local Jewish community. Marom and other such groups rely on donations from abroad to survive.

Mazsihisz’s president, Andras Heisler, declined to answer questions from JTA about the organization’s funding priorities. But Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti of the Bet Shalom congregation in Budapest and a Mazsihisz employee said the umbrella group has not supported Marom because it doesn’t exclude non-Jews from its programming. Radnoti said the Mazsihisz mandate is to cater only to Jews.

“Mazsihisz cannot check if someone at B’nai B’rith or Siraly are Jewish,” he said. “There are some non-Jews that enter among Jews because it’s fun, and that’s fine. But Mazsihisz doesn’t want to give money to such activities.”


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