25 July 2017
It is my pleasure to share with you my report from a very special visit to Budapest in celebration of WIZO Hungary's 25th anniversary to which I was invited. This event marked the historic day their federation was registered and officially re-established after the collapse of communism and after many decades of hardship.
The history of this wonderful federation is truly remarkable. It is a story of survival and revival of our WIZO sisterhood in Hungary despite some of the most devastating wars and dictatorship.
Only when we flick through the pages of history, can we fully appreciate the magnitude of this anniversary event.
Background- Hungarian Jewry
The history of the Jewish community in Hungary can be traced back to hundreds of years before the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD.
From the 13th century on, religious tolerance decreased in Hungary and across Europe, leading to several expulsions and prosecutions of the Jewish communities.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Jews in Hungary were well integrated into Hungarian society. The Jewish community grew to make up 5% of Hungary's total population and 23% of the population of Budapest.
Between the two world wars, Hungary's leaders worked together with the governments of Nazi-Germany and Fascist-Italy. From 1938, Hungary introduced a series of anti-Jewish measures in the same spirit of Nazi Germany's Nürenberg Laws. This marked the beginning of six years which saw the deportation, massacre and systematic genocide of the Jewish population in Hungary.
Whereas in 1941, the number of Jews in Hungary was 750,000 people, this number dropped to 140,000 by the end of the Holocaust.
Currently, it is believed that there are around 120,000 Jews in Hungary, but the majority of them are not affiliated with the Jewish community.
As we look back through history, it is clear that Hungary served as a home to one of the most influential Jewish communities in Europe.
Key Jewish-Hungarian figures in the Jewish and Zionist world like Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau and Elie Wiesel, are testimony to the special status and the proud history of this community.
This special Zionist spirit led to the blossoming of several organizations that supported the foundation of a Jewish homeland.
It is in this context that WIZO Hungary was founded in 1929, when Margit Ferenczi established the first WIZO group in Budapest. In less than a decade, it opened 19 different groups with more than 2,400 members.
All these groups took part in the great "Hachsharah" efforts to save as many Jewish youngsters as possible from the hands of the Nazis in Europe by bringing them to Eretz Israel.
The only Hungarian youngster who escaped to Israel with the "WIZO Certificate" was Chana Szenes who enrolled in the Girls' Agricultural School at CHW Nahalal Youth Village in 1939.
The federation continued to operate and even offered various programs until Purim 1944. With the invasion of the Nazi forces, WIZO Hungary's operation ceased. After the liberation of Budapest in 1945, the surviving WIZO members started to re-group with a focus on aid-relief to the poor and the orphans.
The Zionist work in Budapest was fully resumed in 1946, with the number of members increasing rapidly from 35 to 1,000.
As the Iron Curtain descended upon Hungary, more and more restrictive laws were introduced, among them the complete ban of Zionist organizations.
This was the beginning of a new era of fear and danger, which put a complete stop to the operation of our Hungarian federation in 1950.
Re-establishment of WIZO Hungary
Only months after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, which marked the end of 45 tragic years of war and violence, WIZO Hungary was reborn.
I was delighted to take a leading role in making this dream come true. In March 1990, I was invited by Raya Jaglom, who was then the President of World WIZO, to join her on an extraordinary mission to re-establish our dear WIZO Hungary.
I was then the Head of the Organization, Education and Aviv ("Dor Hemshech") Department in World WIZO. I was given the key role of providing our Chaverot in WIZO Hungary with tools to re-connect with our international movement.
Before the event, we were told that more than 100 women from the Jewish community were invited – with the help of Leslie Keller, from the Jewish World Congress. But in the tense days after communism, we expected only 20-30 women to show up.
To our surprise – and great delight more than 150 women turned up. And in that hall, packed with women of all ages, we made history, all of us together.
And there we were, WIZO women, after so many years of separation and hardship, in one room again, joining hands and hearts. It was a re-union between sisters.
In order to strengthen the bond we restored with WIZO Hungary, I invited a group of young Aviv Chaverot from the federation to come to Israel and participate in our International WIZO Aviv Seminar for Young Leadership from all WIZO federations around the world.
To my delight, in May 1990, I successfully hosted an Aviv delegation from WIZO Hungary at our Seminar in Kfar HaMaccabia. We were all so happy to host them!
Later that year, in early December 1990, we celebrated the opening of WIZO Hungary by holding a special European WIZO conference in Budapest. This unique event included 150 delegates from 15 European countries, who came to express their support and solidarity.
I will never forget the way we closed this special conference – when we sang together "Hatikva" at the beautiful Budapest Opera House.
It was an unforgettable event – and indeed an unforgettable year!
WIZO Hungary's 25th anniversary
When I was invited by WIZO Hungary President, Katalin Istvan Köves, I was deeply touched for it was a wonderful opportunity to return to the place where I was part of a special moment in the federation's history.
It was also an excellent opportunity to become better acquainted with the wonderful Chaverot of WIZO Hungary and with leaders in their community.
om the moment I landed at the airport in Budapest, WIZO Hungary Vice President Andrea Pintér welcomed me with a warm and wonderful hospitality.
She accompanied me throughout my short but very busy visit. Like a sister, Andrea accompanied me to every event and helped me share my message and all the important information about our WIZO by translating every word I had to say.
Tuesday, 23rd May
At the main anniversary event, which was held at the Israeli Cultural Institute, I spoke before all the Chaverot and the distinguished guests, including Israeli Ambassador Yossi Amrani, President of MAZSIHISZ (the Union of Jewish Congregations) Andras Heisler, rabbis, and many others.
Thanks to the help of our World WIZO Treasurer Gila Cohen, who is a native Hungarian speaker, I arrived at the event prepared with a PowerPoint presentation in Hungarian – addressing all the key highlights of our work and values. It was important to bring all the Chaverot up to date with all the activities WIZO is supporting in Israel and around the world. I was delighted to see that despite the "language barrier", we all spoke the WIZO language; a language that is far more powerful than any "spoken language", a language that has been passed on in our WIZO family from one generation to another throughout the world.
I was also able to get to know the new Executive members of WIZO Hungary who were elected last January: the new President Katalin Istvan Köves, Vice President Andrea Pintér, and Vice President and Treasurer Zsuzsa Földes. It was
lovely to be able to witness first-hand their exceptional devotion and great leadership
It was a great celebration of the determination and dedication of our sisters in Hungary to our WIZO and to the sacred work we do for the people of Israel.
I was pleased to present to WIZO Hungary Past President Éva Lancz the Recognition Award for her wonderful commitment to WIZO and to the State of Israel over the years. I was also delighted to meet many friends from over the
years, including some who took part in the Aviv Seminar I organized in the early 1990's.
Israeli Ambassador Yossi Amrani also spoke about WIZO Hungary and pledged to work with us to support our federation and work.
After the event, I was invited by the President of the Union of the Jewish Congregations Andras Heisler to visit his office, where we discussed the needs of the Jewish community in Hungary and the challenges it faces amid increasing anti-Semitism and assimilation rates.
We spoke about the future projects and partnership between his organization and WIZO, and I applauded his promise to tighten the ties between MAZSIHISZ and WIZO Hungary.
It was a very successful meeting with a charismatic and impressive Jewish leader who is committed to supporting our efforts in the early age education and other important Jewish projects.
Following this important meeting, I had a very special visit to the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is also known as The Great Synagogue. This landmark synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. It is internationally recognized as the center of Neolog Judaism, which is a liberal and modernist stream - more inclined toward integration in general Hungarian society.
It was lovely to see many tourists, Jews and non-Jews visiting this beautiful Shul and learning about the central role of Judaism in the history of Hungary. All the revenues from the ticket sales are used to supporting the activities of the Jewish community.
Later in the evening, I was personally invited by the Israeli Ambassador to attend the Israeli Embassy's Yom Ha'atzmaut and Jerusalem Day event at an old palace, which was converted into a beautiful event venue. The area around the Palace was cordoned with guards at every corner. The event was wonderfully organized and included around 400 distinguished guests from the community and from outside of it.
One of the highlights was a Hungarian band and an Israeli trumpet virtuoso, Amir Shturman, who played on 10 different musical instruments.
The Ambassador opened his speech by saying that instead of providing dinner at the event, the Embassy donated that money to purchase five assistive mobility devices for children with Cerebral palsy. These devices were invented by a Hungarian institution which organized workshops in Israel to train specialists how to build them. The dean of the institute spoke about the cooperation between her institute in Hungary and the Israeli colleagues.
Wednesday, 24th May
The following day, I visited the Benjamin Jewish Kindergarten and Day Care Center, and met the Director Éva Rádairé Somsoi, who is in charge of the age group from birth to 6-7 year olds. I was deeply impressed by the excellent conditions and content at the kindergarten.
We had a very fruitful discussion about Jewish education in Hungary, the development of Jewish identity among Jewish children and their encounter with anti-Semitism. I suggested we form a partnership in order to establish a WIZO
mothers group and share our knowledge and experience in training and organizing enrichment courses for the teachers.
After this interesting meeting, I held an important working session with all the Chaverot at their small office located in one of the buildings of the Jewish community. I listened to their concerns and challenges and provided with insight from my own experience. I also offered a few recruiting methods to attract new members, and made several fundraising suggestions and tips to help them organize their future campaigns. It was a very constructive and enlightening meeting.
We later walked to the impressive Hungarian State Opera House and through the ancient Jewish quarter. My heart beamed with joy when I saw restaurants with Hebrew signs.
This was a wonderful visit thanks to the companionship and lovely hospitality of WIZO Hungary. I would also like to thank all the Chaverot who took part in organizing this visit and in their efforts to advance WIZO Hungary's work.
I returned from this busy and very successful visit with hope that we can bring our Hungarians sisters closer to our WIZO work.
Chaverot, we are now facing a special time in the history of WIZO Hungary – a unique window of opportunities to bring WIZO Hungary back to its glory days.
I am certain that if we all work together and support our Hungarian Chaverot, we can help them attract new and dedicated members and join our sacred work.
In spirit of Hungary's greatest Zionist son Herzl: "If you will it is no dream!"
Together, we will it. Together, we will make it happen.
KOL HAKAVOD WIZO HUNGARY!
Prof. Rivka Lazovsky,
Chairperson, World WIZO