Saturday Nov 19, 2016
Friday night was celebrated at Moishe house, which is a place for the young Jewish people from the community to hang out together and aside from having Shabbat dinners together, organize social events such as picnics, going hiking, movies etc. We had a chance to speak with young students who are just starting their Jewish journey and learning about Jewish identity. Some discovered that they were Jews only a few years ago. I could not help but think that these are the little “Mosseses” that I think will take the Jewish people of Budapest out to “freedom” to practice their Jewishness and re-built a wonderful, rich and strong Jewish community as it was before the war and before communism. In every passover we read about how the father tells his children where they came from and where they are going to. Nowadays it is the job of the young ones to tell their parents how Jewish life used to be. The evening was filled with great food and great enthusiasm.
I fondly remembered having dinner at another Moshe house in Topeka Kansas, where my son was studying at Washburn university. My husband and I were very proud of our son seeking to meet other Jewish people in the community and get involved in the various activities that they offered. I highly recommend any young Jewish person who is traveling in the United States and all over the world to find where the local Moshe house is. Here is the website of Moshe house: https://www.moishehouse.org
On Shabbat morning, several teachers went to the synagogue. There was an organ and a five man choir. There was a terrific cantor, and many of his tunes were similar to those done in other synagogues, but he slowed down the tempos in a way that led us to believe that these tempos were how the pieces were originally written. The words “Midor L’dor” – from generation to generation have a huge impact on Jewish continuity. Let us never forget that! Just like it is an obligation at the seder to tell the story of Yetziat Mizrayim – Leaving Egypt – it is an obligation for each generation to tell the story of the previous generation.
Later on in the late afternoon we did a walking tour of the Jewish ghetto. The guide was amazing! She shared with us how she found out that she was Jewish at a very late period in her life. The tour passed by a monument sponsored by the government and dedicated to the “Victims of Nazi Persecution.” It is adorned with an eagle and a statue of the angel Michael. This monument is most known for the protests waged against it. Many of the locals are well aware that, far from being victims, many of the Hungarians were, in fact, collaborators. As such, every day there is a protest in front of the statue, and people put up signs and pictures reminding people of this shameful history. Our tour ended at the Danube where we had Havdalah in front of the “shoes”….This is a permanent display of bronze shoes on the banks of the river, in memory of those thrown into the Danube by the Hungarian collaborators. Jews were ordered to take off their shoes, and were tied up to one another. Than the first one closest to the water was shot and fell into the river along with all the others that were tied to him.
Before saying Havdalah we also sang Hannah Senesh’s poem set to music, “Eili, Eili”. The whole service was very moving and a very appropriate way to end our tour and our last activity in Hungary. After Havdalah we threw the remaining wine into the Danube. It trickled down in a bright red color as it fell into the water.
Finally, a boat ride down the Danube, passing the bridges and seeing anew all the sides on both sides of the river. There were earphones to listen to explanations and it was interesting that it was different in Hebrew and in English. The Hebrew version mentioned the shoe display in the shoe memorial it also mentioned that the Nobel prize winners of Hungary were Jewish. It also mentioned that Elizabeth Talyor stayed in one of the hotels, identifying her first as Jewish! When the explanations were not playing, the waltzes of Richard Strauss were heard, including the Blue Danube.
We just got back from our last dinner together as a group and we summarized our experiences and reflections. The last supper together was a sad one for me. It is going to be hard for me to say goodbye to my fellow colleagues from JDS in Rockville, Maryland. We have become a close family who share ideas, opinions and unique perspectives on everything we see, hear and feel. We tell jokes and laugh and we enjoy each other’s company till very late hours of the night.
Only three hours before our flight back home.
Good bye Budapest! It has been a spiritual, emotional, educational and enlightening journey! We are all looking forward to continuing and strengthening our personal and professional relationships we have built together! We can’t wait to welcome you when you come to us in the United States!
Shalom and L’hitraot!
Friday Nov 18, 2016
Teaching week came to an end today. We said our good byes with a promise to keep in close touch and work collaboratively during the year using social media, blogs, google classroom sharing and more.
It is with sad feeling that I say good bye to the school I have come to admire and appreciate. Learning about the history of the school and the long term objectives of its leaders helped me understand that they have come a long way from the Judaic aspect and from its connection with the land of Israel. In our discussion with the leaders of the school our team suggested several ideas to help promote the atmosphere of Jewishness at the school and infuse knowledge of Jewish literacy. We were all very impressed with the students’ knowledge and interest in American politics, and their English is implacable! We learned that The school is regarded among the top schools in the country and graduates of the school go to very prestigious universities.
In my classes today I did what I do with my classes at my school back at home. I dedicated the lessons to learning about Israel and its achievements. Several students were in Israel a week ago and they spoke about Israel with bright shiny eyes and a big smile. They had a great time there and I am confident that they will have an opportunity to share their experiences with the rest of the students at the school. I also shared with them a video our school took for open house this year, in which students describe what they are learning and experiencing at the school as well as interviews with teachers who explained the philosophy and goals of our school. They were very impressed with the building, with the excitement of the students telling about the various clubs and extra curricula activities that they are engaged. The part that they could not identify with was the prayers and the learning of Torah, two things that this school does not plan to adopt in the near (or very long) future. Not all students are Jewish, even though it is a Jewish School. The parents of these students grew up without it, some discovered that they were Jews only later in life, and some have still not shared with their child that he/she is Jewish. When students register at the school, they are not asked if they are Jewish. One of the teachers explained: ”It is not The Hungarian way”, in another words “It is not politically correct”.
It is going to be hard for me to say good bye to my fellow colleagues from JDS in Rockville Maryland. We have become a close family who share ideas, opinions and unique perspectives on everything we see, hear and feel. We tell jokes and laugh and we enjoy each other’s company till very late hours of the night.
It is almost Shabbat Time and we are going to the synagogue and will be meeting with the young members of the Jewish community here in Budapest. I am very excited to meet them!
Wednesday Nov 16, 2016
It has been very intense since we arrived here on Sunday, and only now, I can have the emotional “space” to reflect on what I have seen, heard, observed and came to understand.
The imagery I had in mind of Eastern European Jewry was of Jews yearning to return to Zion. I have learned to believe that it is not the case, at least here in Budapest. From my conversations with local residents I get a very sad picture of people struggling to make ends meet, provide for their family and have very little Jewish literacy. The children do not have basic knowledge about the history of the Jewish people, the identity of famous Jews in the Bible like the fathers and mothers, Jacob and his sons, Joseph in Egypt, and on and on. I came to realize that it is not “politically correct” to ask the students if they are Jewish. Many of them will tell you that they do not know if they are, and they need to check with their parents. When I was teaching a group of 11th graders the Hatikva, – they had no idea what it meant or when you sing it. They did not know that it is the Israeli Anthem. The word Mizrach (east) meant nothing. And then it became clear to me: There is NO ISRAELI FLAG at the school, no Jewish symbols, no pictures of Jewish people or Israel. When I tried to explain the olive branch around the Menorah, I had to pose, go back to tell the story about Noah and the flood and it felt like I was telling them a fairytale.
When I was teaching a unit about food in another 11th grade class, and I asked them what to we eat on Rosh Hashana, some of them knew that we eat apple and honey. What other foods and why? That remained a question. When we came to Chanukah they remembered that we eat something in oil but did not know why. I was planning to continue with the other holidays, but it was very painful to see their lack of knowledge.
I enjoyed watching a first grade class learning with a spark in their eyes the Hebrew Alphabet, and speak and understand basic words in Hebrew. Seeing them so excited to learn Hebrew and please their teacher led me to ask the teacher: “What happened when they come to high school and their level of Hebrew is SO low?” She explained that there are several reasons for that. First, Hebrew becomes an elective, and most students elect to choose others and not Hebrew. Second, students learn Hebrew only two or three times a week for a 45 minute lesson. Third, their textbook is not conducive for learning Hebrew in the diaspora. It is the textbook used at Ulpan classes in Israel for University students who are coming to Israel to study at the university. She shared with me their dilemma whether to stay with this textbook or change it to another program, whose name I’d rather not mention here. I told her to examine it carefully first, as it has a lot of Biblical Hebrew in it. Once she heard that word – she said – “Oh, no- that would not work here at all!”
I am happy to report that in my private meeting with my host teacher I was able to recommend to her various teaching materials, that would help make teaching and learning the Hebrew Language a more meaningful and fun process. I plan to include her in my Hebrew department’s google classroom page, where we upload lesson plans, useful links, interesting and useful videos and ideas we come up with.
I enjoyed giving the presentation today at the CEU on The Revival of The Hebrew Language. When I was talking it felt like I was telling a fascinating story to a close friend and sharing my excitement and my love for the language. I know that not all the students in the audience were Jewish, so it was important for me to share with them that also Jesus from Nazareth, and Maria Magdalene spoke the Hebrew Language.
Today one very important question I have had on my mind, got answered. When Hertzel spoke to the Jews about going to live in the country of their own, so many of them objected. Now I realize that at the time he was coming with all of these great ideas, the Jews in Budapest were having “a golden age”. They built a magnificent, beautiful and large enough to hold 10,000 people who would attend it. They had no reason at that time to want to leave, on the contrary – it was time to expand and to flourish. I never knew that Hertzel was born in Hungary and his house was in fact not far from that second largest synagogue in the world. Somehow times lead us to believe he was from Vienna. After all, he said: “Here in Basel I established the Jewish State”.
Our conversation with the director of The Jewish Community helped me understand the impact of communism on the Jewish people in Budapest. Things begin to be clearer in my mind. Just like the slaves in Egypt had to spend 40 years in the desert to appreciate being free at last, maybe it takes time for the Jews here to heal their wounds and get back on their feet Jewishly speaking. But they need help! They need a Moses, and maybe we are the little Moseses who are lending a hand to help them get up. We need to recruit more and more “mosses” for this mission in order for it to succeed.