In Hungary, Jewish Agency unveils new Israel Center

"British Council" style cultural center will serve as a model for an international network; center will feature events, classes, exhibits and more.

Sharansky 311 (photo credit: Andrs Kovacs)
Sharansky 311
(photo credit: Andrs Kovacs)
BUDAPEST – The Jewish Agency unveiled an Israeli cultural center on Thursday evening that it hopes will serve as a model for an international network of cultural centers along the lines of the UK’s British Council or Germany’s Goethe Institute.
The Mala Zisser Israel Culture Center occupies a four-story building on a quaint street in this city’s historic Jewish neighborhood. It features a café, a bookstore, classrooms and a concert hall where Israeli and Jewish events will be held. In addition, it houses the offices of several Jewish and Israeli organizations.
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Eran El-Bar, the Jewish Agency’s Jewish education emissary to Central and Eastern Europe, and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the cultural center, explained the building’s multi-layered purpose.
“The first floor will offer visitors different tastes of Israel,” El-Bar said. “It has a café and a bookstore. For the second floor you’ll have to schedule a meeting: It will have concerts, lectures and exhibits. It’s our cultural floor."
“Educational activities will take place on the third floor. It’s where we’ll teach Hebrew and other classes. For instance, we recently offered the public a course on the cultural life of cafes in Tel Aviv. And the fourth floor is where we will train leaders, prepare people for Birthright and have youth groups meet.”
One reason Budapest has been chosen as a testing ground for the Israeli cultural centers is because of its large yet mostly uninvolved Jewish community.
Of the estimated 100,000 people of Jewish ethnicity in Hungary only about 20,000 take part in Jewish activities, El-Bar said.
Another factor is the population of Israeli students, numbering about 1,000, who mostly come to Hungary to study medicine.
Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky – who attended Thursday’s opening night – said that if the center proved successful after a year’s test run he would like to open similar centers in Latin America and the former Soviet republics.
“We want this project to do more than education and culture, we want the center to strengthen Jewish identity and bring people to Israel,” he said.