Amid a backdrop of anti-Semitic violence that garnered headlines this year in France, Denmark, and Belgium, right-wing extremism has been gaining political traction in a number of European nations — perhaps most dramatically in Hungary.
For Andras Borgula (opposite, top, center)—one of the creative minds behind Judafest, JDC’s signature street festival in Budapest—that means his work is more important than ever.
“Everybody is worried. Only the blind are not,” he said. “Judafest has become a statement of sorts in the last few years. We Jews come out of our homes proudly and loudly and in bigger numbers than we’ve seen at any point since 1945 or maybe 1989.”
“JDC doesn’t only foster a spirit of resilience. It’s more than that—I cannot imagine resilience without JDC.”
Growing up in communist Hungary, Borgula didn’t know he was Jewish until he was 14.
But once he embraced his roots, his Jewishness became not just an identity but a passion.
“Once I understood what being Jewish meant to me, I knew I had to try to bring that experience to others,” said Borgula, a Jewish community activist in Budapest and the director of the city’s Gólem Theatre. “I had to try to give something back. Today, I’m doing so much that it feels like my life is one big Jewish wedding.”
Borgula, who describes himself as “unreasonably optimistic and desperately motivated,” is one of the creative minds behind Judafest, JDC’s signature street festival in Budapest.
Judafest began eight years ago with a simple goal: to get 1,000 people to attend. A rousing success, 3,500 people came out that first year. Now, the festival regularly attracts crowds of closer to 10,000 to a robust, multifaceted Jewish cultural event: street festival, culinary demonstrations, musical performances, film screenings, family day, picnic, and more.
An example of JDC’s commitment to extending Jewish learning beyond the walls of Jewish community centers and making Jewish culture visible and accessible, Judafest’s success and structure has been replicated in cities across Europe.
The festival, which began as a music- and art-filled celebration of Jewish culture, has become something more—a critical chance to bring the Jewish community together in the face of rising far-right and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“This celebration of life is one of a kind, and people know it,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for us, for Hungarian Jews, to have this day together.”
Meeting the challenges Hungarian Jews face in these trying times, JDC programs help strengthen this Jewish community of about 100,000, Borgula said.
“It’s simple: Without JDC, there would be 90 percent less Jewish life here. Not because JDC supports or gives budget for 90 percent of our activities, but because JDC has built a reputation of helping people like me do the things we never thought we were capable of,” he said. “JDC doesn’t only foster a spirit of resilience. It’s more than that—I cannot imagine resilience without JDC.”