Feature Stories

Creating Jewish Identity on Budapest’s Bustling Streets

“Judafest Juniors is a unique event where positive Jewish identity is created for families and young children through inventive activities,” explains Agi Kardos, a mother of two who grew up during the socialist regime in Hungary in a traditional Jewish family—something very unusual for her generation. “Many people who are not ready to attend other kinds of Jewish programs are warmly welcomed here; and it’s accessible to non-Jews, giving our community a chance to open up to Budapest’s larger society, too.”

This year’s 5th annual Judafest Juniors festival in Budapest, Hungary brought together the youngest generation of Jews and their families for an unforgettable day of games, fun, and Jewish learning.

The annual event is supported by JDC as part of a region-wide “Judaism Without Walls” initiative geared at bringing non-affiliated Jews into Jewish life through innovative programs outside of traditional frameworks.

Over 600 people, including some 200 families, came to the Lauder Javne School, where the event’s “Around the World” theme delighted children and parents alike.

Kids learned about various countries while sampling local Jewish culture. A mock Moroccan Mimuna showed them the traditional Jewish celebration that takes place after Passover, initiating a return to eating bread after the holiday and the beginning of spring.

Stations like Marc Chagall’s Studio, the Secrets of the Ark of the Covenant, and Yiddish Worlds filled the kids with wonder at all the various facets of Judaism around the globe, as they traveled from one country to the next via pretend horses, tractors, and air ballons.

Tamara Szabo, whose family is secular and only attends synagogue on the High Holidays, does not typically participate in community activities or programs but feels an event like this is a worthwhile exception. “I’m not very involved in Jewish community life but I think it’s very important to have programs that are not directly ‘religious’ but that fit the secular people who are interested in Judaism,” she says. She brought her 11-year-old to the event and had a chance to check out the Lauder Jewish School for the first time.

In light of the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism and political tensions in Hungary, the event took on an added significance for many of the attendees. “I think it’s important to show that despite the emerging anti-Semitism in Hungary, the Jewish community exists and is very active,” Szabo added.

Tamas Salgo, another secular Hungarian Jew, agrees. “Judafest Junior and similar activities bring people with similar interests together.” Parents and children enjoy the opportunity to spend quality time, and family members of all ages get to make new friends. “Events like these strengthen the Jewish community, giving us more confidence to fight against anti-Semitism,” Tamas added.

Linda Vero, a Jewish informal educator and the wife of a Rabbi on the Buda side of the city, observed that the event brings something unique to the Hungarian Jewish community that denominational activities cannot offer. “I think it’s very important to have widely advertised programs that many non-affiliated people attend. At Judafest Junior, nobody feels they are ‘outsiders’ because the event doesn’t give the impression of a closed community, which many Jewish programs have … It’s critical to offer diverse programming that isn’t built on the classical Jewish life circle and holidays, and to educate people in indirect ways. Judafest is a perfect example of this.”

As a live band played on, children ventured through an obstacle course, enjoyed a bouncy castle, got their faces painted, and enjoyed arts and crafts. The day culminated with Judafest Kinectmaccabia, a virtual Olympics where different age groups competed in eight different sports.

As parents looked on, a feeling of community was palpable. “It feels good to be part of a bigger group,” added Judit Kepecs, who come from a non-religious family but has always kept Jewish traditions in her home. “I think by attending events like this we clearly show our country’s government that Jewish life in Hungary is flourishing and that avoiding dealing with anti-Semitism is not the way things should go. Having events like this makes us stronger.”

Tags for this story: Children, Families

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