Summer Love at Szarvas

July 9, 2013


Some marriages are a match made in heaven. For Barbi Paszternak-Szendy and her husband Andras Paszternak, their June nuptials were a match made in Szarvas.

The pair both attended the pioneering JDC-run international Jewish summer camp in rural Hungary, which has served many thousands of children and teens since 1990 with the help of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

Andras, 32, a Slovakia native, came to Szarvas in 1991 at the age of 10 and fell hard for the camp, which has emerged in the last two decades as a dynamic and vital component of the global Jewish revival.

“It was like love at the first moment,” said Andras, a post-doctoral fellow in chemistry at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.

Barbi, 37, who leads the camp’s Hungarian Unit during the summer and works at Budapest’s Balint Haz Jewish Community Center during the year, first came to Szarvas when she was 14.

“It was fantastic,” she said, smiling.

Today, more than a thousand campers from over 25 countries converge at Szarvas each summer to explore their Jewish identity, connect with Israel, and develop the leadership skills to become key players in their home communities.

The couple reconnected in 2001, when Andras returned to Szarvas to work as a madrich (youth/camp counselor), under the supervision of Barbi, his unit head.

“For 12 years, we were very good friends. But last summer, something happened,” she said.

Andras elaborates: “Last summer came … Szarvas again. Already in the preparatory week, something in the air vibrated between us. Even I as a PhD of nano-chemistry could not scientifically explain this phenomenon!”

Barbi and Andras were married by Tamas Vero, who serves as the rabbi of Budapest’s Leo Frankel Street Synagogue.

“It’s a nice story, that everything is connected to Szarvas,” he said.

Deciding to get married at Szarvas was an obvious choice for the couple, who can trace so much back to the camp.

Alexander “Sasha” Friedman, the camp’s director, said Barbi and Andras’s marriage was the first to take place at the camp, but many “Szarvas couples” have developed over the years.

“In a couple of years, we’ll have the first Szarvas grandparents,” he said. “Whenever JDC supports a child in Szarvas, it basically supports the future of many generations, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.”

“Szarvas is an important part of my Jewish identity. It has given us so many things, mostly all the friends and Jewish knowledge,” Andras said.

His bride agrees.

“I think Szarvas has a very big impact in my life, because I am working in the Jewish community, and I met my husband in the Jewish community,” she said.

And the happy couple is hoping the circle remains unbroken.

“I hope that when we will have children, they can also get so many things from Szarvas,” Andras said.

For more information on the camp and JDC’s work fueling the global Jewish revival:

Szarvas is generously supported by Victor and Lisa Kohn, The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, among others.

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