Feature Stories

Jewish Life Takes to the Streets at Hungary’s Celebrated Judafest

“Judafest allows us to feel like we are part of something bigger, which strengthens and motivates us,” says Ildikó, a proud mother of two who is looking forward to this year’s festival—expected to be the biggest yet in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter.
“Judafest allows us to feel like we are part of something bigger, which strengthens and motivates us,” says Ildikó, a proud mother of two who is looking forward to this year’s festival—expected to be the biggest yet in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter.

This June, Kazinczy Street in Budapest’s Jewish quarter will come alive with the spirited energy and joy of over 4000 Jews coming together to celebrate the richness of Jewish life in Hungary today.

The single largest Jewish event in the country, JDC’s Judafest brings music, art, children’s programs, Hora dances, and traditional kosher specialties to the streets of Budapest—and draws thousands of Jews of every age eager to partake in the annual festival.

Ildikó Fehér, 36, is a mother of two and looks forward to the event because it represents the regeneration of a Jewish community that was nearly lost here. As a child growing up on the outskirts of the capital, Ildikó had no access to religious education, Jewish programs, or kosher food. Her family roots trace back to the darkness of the Holocaust and to her the festival symbolizes an important rekindling of the Jewish spirit.

“We have to live in the present, to educate ourselves and our kids about our history but also about being Jewish today. JDC’s programs provide the long lost connections to community we’ve been missing,” she explains. “Events like Judafest bring us together and allow us to feel like we are part of something bigger, which strengthens and motivates us, and brings us real joy.”

While an estimated 120,000 Jews live in Hungary, only some 15 percent of the population is active. JDC partners with the local Jewish community on highly visible and highly accessible programs like Judafest to dramatically increase levels of affiliation among the capital city’s high concentration of Jews. Judging from the swelling crowds from one year to the next, it’s working.

Enthusiastic participants line up to eat falafel, to hear a Klezmer concert, or to have Jewish symbols painted on their children’s faces. Other stands feature a variety of goods, including Jewish literature, Dead Sea products, Judaica art, Jewish food, and kosher wine; and activities such as children’s games and quizzes on Jewish history. This year will see the return of the Maccabi Community Fun Run, an event that raises funds to help the needy within the community.

The diversity of offerings and the accessible, central location means there is something within everyone’s reach.

Andrea Molnar, 33, is raising her five-year-old steeped in Jewish traditions, thanks to JDC’s programs at the Balint House, Budapest’s Jewish community center and a hub of Jewish life in Hungary. While economic times are hard, the family turns to the JDC—established Jaffe Jewish Family Service (JFS) program for necessities like food, medication, and glasses for the young boy. With JFS support, they attend family camp programs at the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation/JDC International Summer Camp at Szarvas, the premier Jewish informal education venue where Jews in Central and Eastern Europe come to learn about Jewish tradition and create life-changing connections with other Jews living beyond their borders.

Judafest itself is an opportunity for Jews from Budapest and beyond to see new faces and feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie with others who share their Jewish heritage.

“Especially in these tough times, I look forward to Judafest and the many programs for children, the special sense of community, and the new friends we meet there,” says Andrea. “Each year we go together as a family and learn something new and wonderful about our culture and our people. It brings us happiness and a renewed love for Jewish life.”

Tags for this story: Children, Jewish Holiday Celebrations

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