Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hungarian horizons

I was in Boston yesterday with my colleague Zoya Shvartzman, JDC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships for Europe
Zoya is Moldovan-born, growing up in Tel Aviv and Vancouver, and has lived and worked in Montreal, Mexico, Budapest and Tel Aviv. Specifically, we came for a series of meetings with CJP, the Boston Jewish Federation, to discuss our work in Hungary and prepare a mission for the summer.
One of the aspects of that work that fascinates me about Hungary is how the horizons and challenges of the Jewish community intersect. Hungary has the fourth-largest Jewish community in Europe (after France, the UK and Germany), with some 120,000 … but the total number of Jews participating in any form of community engagement is probably no more than 20,000. Maybe less.
And one of the key questions we discussed with professionals at CJP yesterday was the difference between engagement and outreach in the Jewish community.
Here in the US, we sometimes use the terms interchangeably. But in fact they're very different.
In Hungary we can't engage the middle and older generation, because in so many cases, there’s no one with whom we can engage. 
There’s no Jewish memory, no Jewish collective education. They were cut off for so long, and much of what we take for granted in the West as aspects of Jewish life – synagogues, religious institutions, federations, community organizations – are treated with suspicion. So outreach is more of the flavor. 
And unlike in the US, where we reach out to parents, and through them we can reach the kids, in places like Hungary we have to reach out first to the kids, and hope that through them we can reach through to the parents.
That’s why Szarvas Camp, the Balint JCC programs and other young-family programs are so critical.

And that’s why what happens in Hungary will be the precursor, in many ways, to what we try to do in many other countries around the world.

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