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Central Europe: the view from there

10/16/2018 05:59:01 PM


Howie Sholkin

Temple Shalom members are on a trip to Central Europe from Oct. 13-23, covering Budapest, Hungary, Prague, Czech Republic and Vienna, Austria. The following was written by Temple member Howie Sholkin:

We spent much of the day in the Jewish district of Budapest. Several things stood out with an overriding thought: how much the Jews suffered for 50 years and how that forced many to give up religion.

Budapest was the only ghetto to be liberated not obliterated because it began months before the end of the war. Nevertheless, 200,000 Hungarians died in several months. Then, the Russians moved in with their repression for 45 years. In the early 1990s with the collapse of Soviet control, some Jews came out from hiding.

In Budapest, we visited a few synagogues that are major tourist attractions for Jews and non-Jews, which were part of the ghetto and have been restored by the government. In country tightly controlled by a conservative leader who some consider anti-Semitic, it was strange to see the interest in Jews. (Dohany Street or Great Synagogue is to the left).

The Jewish section includes a few kosher restaurants and a lot of Mideast food. This area has a vibrant night life with coffee shops in every block.

We ended our day at that JCC, a hub of Judaism. We learned about how Jews, 35 years after Soviet, occupation are discovering their Jewish identities. It’s estimated there are 120,000 in Hungary, down from 800,000 before WW II.

Zsuzsa Fritz, director of the JCC, said she didn’t learn she was Jewish until her father died when she was 16. Her parents didn’t want her to go through the trauma of Nazism and Soviet repression, which had already ended. Her mom was initially fearful of her working for the JCC. A similar story was recounted by another JCC colleague.

We learned that a JCC-run summer camp hosts 1,600 kids 15 and older each year. For 12 days, they rotate in and out from June-September. The camp is the UN with up to nine languages spoken and teens from around the world. The largest percentage is from Hungary. Americans go through a rigorous application process to be accepted at Camp Szarvas. Learn more at or

After 9-5 touring, we ended our day at the JCC where young people with Down’s syndrome and autism danced for a half hour with some of our temple members joining in.

I left inspired by how Jews reclaimed their religion despite many odds and how much we have to cherish and ifnecessary defend our religious freedom.

Sun, November 17 2019 19 Cheshvan 5780