In the Hungarian capital of Budapest, you can order a rabbi to your home as if
ordering takeout, but only during Hanukka.
During the eight nights of
festival of lights, Rabbi Tamás Vero of the Frankel Synagogue – a Neolog
congregation hidden in a courtyard near the Danube – puts on a Superman costume,
the S replaced with the Hebrew letter Shin, and visits families to help them
light the traditional hanukkia lamp.
With the rabbi on tap to go to
anyone’s house so long as there are at least eight children there, families have
been gathering together and putting in their orders for a clerical house
Rabbi Vero and his wife Linda, the author of a series of children’s
books aimed at teaching the basics of Judaism in an entertaining manner, are
part of what some have described as a renaissance in Jewish life in the former
communist state. Members of the dominant Neolog faction, a moderate Reform
movement unique to Hungary that lies somewhere between Modern Orthodoxy and
Conservative Judaism, the Veros have been working to bring Jewish practice back
to a community that was sheared of its heritage over decades of Communist
“The thing is that we feel that they come to us to be Jewish, but
they are not Jewish at home.
They really don’t know how to be Jewish at
home. They grew up… during communism,” Linda Vero told The Jerusalem Post in a
telephone interview on Sunday.
Lighting the Hanukka candles is like
making a Passover Seder meal, Rabbi Vero explained – “it’s better if you do at
as a family at home. We are trying to make it so as many people as possible can
do it at home and light the candles at home.”
So far the rabbi has
visited dozens of families – around fifteen every evening, he said – and was on
his way to the local Jewish Community Center to put on his costume and light
with a gathering of 150 youngsters.
“Everybody in the world knows that in
Hungary now there are anti-Semitic attacks and the right wing is growing, but
people ask if there are less people [participating]. But now I can say… the
Jewish life in Hungary, and the synagogues, are growing,” the rabbi
The Veros’ comments echoed those that they made during a JTA
interview last year that profiled them regarding the growth of Jewish life in
“My husband and I are building a Jewish community at our
synagogue,” Linda said at the time. “But my goal is that our members take
Judaism home – into their homes.”
With an estimated 80,000 Jews, Budapest
has the largest Jewish population of any central European city. It is home to
about 20 Jewish congregations, ranging from Neolog to traditional Orthodox and
Chabad, to American-style Reform, to informal prayer groups such as Dor Hadash,
an independent egalitarian congregation that is associated with the Masorti
As in other post-Communist countries, there has
been a revival of Jewish life and identity since the Iron Curtain came down more
than 20 years ago.
But the rate of intermarriage remains high – according
to surveys about 50 percent – and most of the city’s Jews have nothing to do
with organized Jewish life.JTA contributed to this report.
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