A Jewish renaissance in Hungary

The third annual Jewish Art Days Festival invigorated Budapest’s already lively cultural scene between May 28 and June 10. Filling more than 20 venues with dozens of programs across the capital, the festival is becoming an early-summer tradition in the city and yet another sign that Hungary’s Jewish community is seeing a renaissance of their culture.

Despite its relatively brief history, Budapest’s third annual Jewish Art Days Festival is rapidly becoming an iconic event for the city’s early summer scene. This year, the festival rolled out in more than 20 of the capital’s prestigious venues, including the Uránia National Film Theater, Vígszínház Theater, Budapest Congress Center and the Frankel Leó Street Synagogue. 

It’s no coincidence, in our view, that this renaissance is taking place now. This blossoming of Jewish culture has been preceded by a number of important measures undertaken by Orbán Governments that affirm and protect our historic Jewish community in Hungary. Today, many agree, Hungary is one of the safest places for European Jews. 

The numbers appear to support that claim. Hungarian Jewish watchdog Tett és Védelem Foundation (TEV) reported 37 anti-Semitic incidents for 2017 in Hungary, a result of the government’s strict stance against hate crimes. That’s 37 too many, of course, but for comparison, we find that Jews in the United Kingdom, for example, are almost 15 times likelier to experience an incident or even physical attacks than coreligionists in Hungary.

As a recent visitor to Budapest wrote, nobody looks twice if you walk down the street wearing a kippah.

Here’s a brief look at a few things the Orbán Governments have done on this issue: 

In 2001, during the first Orbán Government, Hungary established a Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust, which is now observed every year, and Holocaust education has become part of the national curriculum. With the entry into force of Hungary’s new constitution in 2012, the Hungarian Jewish community has been officially recognized as an inseparable part of the Hungarian nation, and around the same time, Parliament banned hate symbols and paramilitary groups. The government also reached an agreement with the Claims Conference regarding compensation and restitution, restored support for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and laid the foundation stone for the first new synagogue to be built in Budapest since 1931. In addition, President János Áder specifically apologized for Hungary’s role in the Holocaust, which led to the deportation and death of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

Despite these measures, which amount to far more than any other Hungarian government has done, cynical and insulting accusations of anti-Semitism persist. Last year, in a letter to Hungary’s consulate in New York, 11 Orthodox rabbis wrote to “condemn the instigation” against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government, while during his historical visit to Budapest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Hungary for “standing up for Israel at the forefront of the opposition to anti-Semitism.”

Similarly, while hosting Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó in Washington earlier this month, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, H.E. Ron Dermer, expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Orbán for his “zero-tolerance policy against anti-Semitism.” 

“Israel values its friendship with Hungary,” the ambassador said, “and the country’s backing and its stance in support of Israel in international organizations.”

Hungarian Jewish culture is blossoming. Our compatriots enjoy this great country free of persecution, and we aim to keep it that way.