In Budapest, rabbi makes house calls

In the Hungarian capital of Budapest, you can order a rabbi to your home as if ordering takeout, but only during Hanukka.

Rabbi Tamas Vero 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Tamas Vero 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 call.
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 rule.
“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 said.
The Veros’ comments echoed those that they made during a JTA interview last year that profiled them regarding the growth of Jewish life in Budapest.
“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 (Conservative) movement.
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.