Jewish Community for Beginners and Experts

The video series is a collaboration of Mozaik Hub, Lauder Javne Jewish Community School, Balint JCC, and Haver Foundation.

Bence Tordai, Mozaik Hub
Our goal with the video series, which is available on the website, is to start a dialogue, a discussion, a thinking process within the community about such topics and issues that do not really appear in the community today. Even if these topics are discussed, it is usually done from a schematic, out-of-date perspective of a certain organization pushing its own exclusive agenda. The problem of fragmentation is often discussed along with the lack of common goals, which leads us to the lack of a common vision. At the same time, many of the Jewish nonprofit organizations and initiatives – including the creators of this video series – have been working on creating an up-to-date, inclusive 21st century vision for the Jewish community. Among other things, this is what the video series means to our Mozaik Jewish Community Hub: Jewish values are discussed in the light of history and traditions while a picture of a stronger, more diverse, and self-sustaining Jewish community is presented.

Zsuzsa Fritz, Balint JCC
One of the main goals of Balint Jewish Community House is to bring the members of the Jewish community closer to their own Jewishness. We aim to offer these people opportunities to experience and to connect to their Jewishness. According to our own experience, one of the best ways to do this is through learning. Learning about Judaism, values, ways to ask questions and give answers appropriate in this day and age. This video series is one of the best tools to do this because it makes such presentations accessible to the public that discuss topics that are important today and the series is not afraid to mention contradictory, complex, and inspiring topics either. We truly hope the series will become the starting point of discussions online and offline, in small communities, in cafes, and in small groups. We also hope that in addition to the knowledge people will gain from the series, their take on the community and the Jewish identity will also become more diverse.

Gabor Horanyi, Lauder Javne School
The students of the Lauder School, their parents, the workers of the school all define themselves as part of a strong community. We are all different and this is why are questions are different too. The question of the youth is: why should I be a Jew today in Hungary? The question of the older generation is: how should I be a Jew if I can’t be anything else? The answer to both of these questions is community. But what does it and what could it mean for us to belong to the Jewish community or to a Jewish community. The talks of Gabor Balazs not only guide us with their content but with their approach of openness as well. The question of  “How should I be a Jew?” is not a math problem that only has one possible answer. The same way as nothing human can be interpreted in only one way. Finding your own path is not easy at all. We in the Lauder School invoke the power of community. The community that shows a number of paths rather than only one and the community that will let you choose and will take your side however you choose. If you listen to these talks you will hear our message too.         

Julia Des, Haver Foundation
Haver Foundation’s primary goal is to put to rest current misbeliefs about Jews. Based on our experience, there is a significant lack of knowledge about this subject among high school students as well as in the entire Hungarian society. That is why we consider it an important step that this project was realized. Although the presentations often start in the past, they always reflect on the present. Moreover, they analyze the roadblocks the Jewish community is currently facing and the issues to be solved. Those people who have never dealt with Judaism could learn a lot from these videos and also those who are familiar with the topic including the members of the community could benefit from them. The videos could help those who do not want to learn about the Jewish community from textbooks, while the members of the community could find them inspiring to have honest discussions. We consider these lectures very important because they are in line with Haver Foundation’s mission as they advertise mutual respect and the importance of dialogues.

LECTURER: Gabor Balazs, philosopher
Gabor is a consultant and a trainer of Jewish content in the Hub. Gabor is an assistant professor of Jewish and Israeli Philosophy at the University of Jewish Studies, and he is active in numerous frameworks of Jewish adult education. Formerly Gabor worked as the Director of Jewish and Israel Studies at Lauder School, Budapest. He also was the director of the Israeli Cultural Institute in Budapest and the headmaster of the school of the Orthodox Jewish Community of Hungary. As a community activity serves as the vice president of the Orthodox Community of Hungary. Gabor received his PhD. at Bar Ilan University in Israel and his first teaching position was there. His main interest is in the connection between morality and religion and theories of contemporary Jewish communal identity and in Israel studies.

The Mozaik Hub is a professional platform, which provides infrastructure, co-working space, customized professional support, learning opportunities and financial support for Jewish community NGOs and initiatives in Hungary.  

Balint House is the home of the Hungarian Jewish community, a place that brings people together. A meeting place for organizations, cultures, friends and strangers, Jews and non-Jews. A sensitive, open, ever-changing home supported by the traditions and the community-forming ideals of the Hungarian Jewish community. 

Lauder School is a special workshop where through Jewish traditions and culture students acquire traditions along with the values of modern Jewish culture. The school is intent on educating its students with the help of traditions and the values of modernity to learn about the world and Judaism, to be open-minded and to accept differences.

The word “haver” means friend both in Hebrew and in Hungarian. Haver Foundation’s volunteers give interactive classes mostly in high schools and universities to educate about Judaism with the help of informal educational tools. In our classes we discuss such topics like Jewish identity, Jewish culture and traditions, Jewish history, the Holocaust, Jewish religion and communities.

Chapter 1 – Why do we need a community?
What is the role of the community in the process of becoming a human being and why is it important for the man of the 21st century that communities survive? The lecture includes the mission statements of the participating organizations: „We believe that if we manage to create such a Jewish community where the members are aware of our common past, they believe in our common values, and they are ready and willing to actively work on realizing these values, then it will be fun to be a member of the community and the lives of the members will be happier with the existence of the community than without it.

Chapter 2 – Retrospect: the kahal
In this lecture we take an honest look at the pros and cons of the traditional Jewish communities, the so called kahals, and conclude that those good ol’ days were not that good. In our day and age, we can stay true to our Jewish traditions if instead of chasing an idealized illusion of the past, we work to build a Jewish community appropriate in our ever-changing environment.

Chapter 3 – The disintegration of the traditional community (kahal)
What were the internal and external reasons that led to the disintegration of the traditional Jewish communities prior to modern times? In our opinion, in this disintegration process the appearance of new religious movements such as kabbalah and Chassidism of the 16th century played a key role along with the Era of the Enlightenment as well as the political representation of modern European states.

Chapter 4 – Unity and disruption
The lecture analyzes the myth of the statement “In the good old days the Jewish communities were so unified” and then articulates its central thesis: we do not have to believe those who try to make unity and unification within the Hungarian Jewish community seem like they are values and they are in the common interest of the community. The Jewish community will not be strong because one of the groups will manage to unify the different religious federations and organizations. The Jewish community will be strong if we manage to preserve the communities with different values and the congregations with different rituals but the network of these groups will be able to cooperate with one another honestly, openly, and respectfully in certain issues.

Chapter 5 – The dynamics of innovation and preservation: The emergence of the Jewish religious movements
In this chapter we deal with Jewish religious movements of past and present, introducing the circumstances of their emergence and their main traits. We conclude that the orthodox and the reform movement are equally important in the life of the Jewish community today. Therefore, it is worth looking into the history, the reasons, the correlations, and the contributions of both to the emergence of the Jewish community of today.

Chapter 6 – The emergence of the Hungarian Jewish reality
The lecture details the attributes and the history of the Hungarian Jewish religious movements. Its central thesis is that if we can forget about the completely unnecessary debate about “Who is right?”, and all the Jewish groups accept each other and they look for ways to cooperate, then we might be able to help people of Jewish origins who are not in touch with the Jewish community today to find a community for themselves.

Chapter 7 – How to use and how not to use the past?
This lecture deals with the history of and the disbeliefs about the uniquely Hungarian status quo ante community. It sets the ironic and self-reflective historical point of view of a story from the Talmud against current aspirations of revival and ahistorical monopolization of the community, which has ceased to exist for ever.

Chapter 8 – The different concepts of tradition and modern communities
In this chapter we try to present the different interpretations of a Jewish community based on a piece by retired British chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. We conclude that the numerous independent Hungarian Jewish communities should be able to cooperate with one another and not only on a temporary, pragmatic basis. A social network could be created in which every one of the small communities could contribute in its own way to realize a monumental, long-term goal.

Chapter 9 – A worthless question: Is Judaism a nationality or a religion?
In this chapter we set out to formulate a proposal according to which we should stop using phrases like religion and modern nationality in the European sense as they are foreign concepts in the Jewish tradition and culture. Instead, we urge the use of the phrase “Jewish Peoplehood. Belonging to the Jewish peoplehood would mean that the individual accepts the existence of all the Jewish communities regardless where they are because Jews around the world share a common history, common values, common culture, and common future.

Chapter 10 – Who is Jewish? (A question without a good answer)
In this chapter we aim to explain through historical examples that in the past it was not easy to answer the question “Who is Jewish?” either. The concept of Jewish peoplehood focuses on common denominators instead of differences. Therefore, if an individual wants to be a member of the community, that person has to meet the requirements of one of the Jewish communities. Moreover, the more communities start using the term Jewish peoplehood, the more likely the emphasis will be on inclusion rather than exclusion.

Chapter 11 – And still the same question: Who is Jewish?
Since when are mixed marriages forbidden according to the Jewish tradition? And since when do we consider those Jewish whose mother is Jewish? In our opinion, we should not only consider those people Jewish who are Jewish by Jewish law, but we should also look at those who are active in Jewish community life and their relatives as members of Jewish peoplehood.

Chapter 12 – Member recruitment: the complex question of conversion
In this chapter we examine how the institution of conversion emerged through history. It will come to light how many different and contradictory yet reasonable sentiments exist about conversion in the Jewish tradition. In our opinion, it would be hopeless to attempt to find a common denominator concerning conversion among the different movements, yet it could be possible to have a more respectful and inclusive discussion on the subject.

Chapter 13 – Equality and acceptance. Women’s equality and sexual diversity
What are the reasons that many traditional Jewish communities either have negative views about or discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community and they do not give equal rights to women within the life of the community? In this chapter, we attempt to present a rather inclusive approach with the help of religious resources. Eventually, we conclude that there are basic Jewish values that urge us to respectfully communicate with the above mentioned groups even if we do not lean towards acceptance.

Chapter 14 – Social responsibility: tikkun olam
In this chapter we will discuss the “cosmopolitan Jewish identity”, which became widespread in the 21st century and we will introduce tikkun olam, an important concept. The Hebrew phrase of tikkun olam is usually translated as “repair of the world” and it reflects the assumption that social responsibility is one of the basic Jewish values. We are to make the entire world that surrounds us a better place and improve the non-Jewish society, not only our immediate environment. 

Chapter 15 – Active solidarity: tzedakah
The lecture discusses two important Jewish values: gemilut hasidim (every good deed we do to help those in need without expecting any kind of compensation) and tzedakah (charity). All these traditional values suggest that in order for a community to survive, its members need to maintain it instead of the organization relying on outside help.

Chapter 16 – Religion and tradition in a secular era
What sort of theological difficulties does the Holocaust present in connection with the concept of the almighty and good god? Although the existence of evil in the world seems inextricable as a theological problem, according to the conclusion of the lecture, going to synagogue still remained a rational, justifiable activity. However, it would be more than desirable to have numerous redefined synagogues or community spaces along the traditional synagogues.

Chapter 17 – The Jewish tradition and the modern leadership values
There are many who think that the survival of the Jewish communities will mainly depend on the fact whether there will be competent, responsible community leaders. The lecture presents the most important tasks of the Jewish leaders of the 21st century through a female and a male leadership model.

Chapter 18 – Future opportunities, or why is it worth being an active Jew in the 21st century?
This recapitulatory lecture discusses the reasons why the initiators of the video series think it is worth living an active Jewish community life in Hungary today. They – Mozaik Hub, Balint House, Lauder School, and Haver Foundation - would like to participate in the creation of such a social net that would bring smaller and larger organizations together and that would have at least three major pillars: pluralism, widely interpreted traditionalism and responsible action for the common goals.