Róbert Deutsch — Fostering a sense of commitment and responsibility to Judaism

Twelve months ago, the website Bennem Élő Eredet was launched. In a series of interviews, the site is now asking Jewish organizations in Hungary about what has happened in the past year and what they plan to do in 2022. Those included have important ties to the Hungarian countryside, may have members outside of Budapest, and have a historical importance and/or public impact.

The same questions were asked of all interviewees. To start off the series, Bennem Élő Eredet has published the answers provided by Róbert Deutsch, President of the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Congregation (MAOIH), since the vast majority of Jews in the Hungarian countryside belonged to the Orthodox community until 1945. Moreover, Deutsch began his new mandate about a year ago. The site compiled answers based on a summary response given by the president. 

How many times in 2021 did you visit the countryside because of your Jewish obligations? (When was the last time?)

I visit the countryside a few times a year, especially Bodrogkeresztúr, where the minyan (the 10 Jewish men needed for daily prayers) is a constant presence, and a good number of pilgrims from abroad, typically overseas, come to visit as well.

I try to develop a community relationship with the pilgrims and regularly encourage them not to go straight from the airport to Bodrogkeresztúr, for example, but to visit our large synagogue on Kazinczy Street and try the delicacies at our Hanna restaurant.

What were the most important rural events of your organization/community in 2021?

Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that Orthodox Jewry in Hungary has suffered the most from historical tragedies: the Holocaust and the post-1945 period, when a short-lived civil democracy was followed by the establishment of an atheist state-party system, which lasted for 40 years.

The martyrdom of almost all rural Jewry shifted the center of gravity of domestic Orthodoxy to Budapest. Those who remained in the countryside either emigrated during the 1956 revolution, or many moved to the capital; unfortunately, many people left as a matter of course.

Our activities are typically related to two themes: pilgrimage tourism in Eastern Hungary and memorial activities related to cemeteries.

What are your greatest moments of pride and greatest regrets regarding your organization/community’s rural operations in 2021?

In September of last year, with some dedicated Orthodox friends, I launched Chevra Kadisa – Holy Unity Foundation for the rescue of Orthodox Jewish cemeteries in Hungary.

The Foundation aims to save Orthodox Jewish cemeteries in Hungary while supporting Jewish communities whose primary goal is to pass on traditional Jewish values, learning and identity.

Our mission includes enriching and inspiring the religious Jewish community, fostering a sense of commitment and responsibility to Judaism.

We are also responsible for restoring and replacing dilapidated, incomplete or non-existent fences around cemeteries, and repairing old gravestones and dilapidated burial grounds that are falling into disrepair. The large number of depopulated rural areas where Jews no longer live, or at best rely on descendants of those who lived there, is a gap we want to fill. This also includes the promotion and organization of pilgrimages.

Following the recent court registration, I hope 2022 will be about substantive work for the Foundation. We also expect to see a strengthening of our rural activity.

József Kiss, destined to be a rabbi but became a poet, died 100 years ago – Neokohn