A story of success on Síp Street

After 10 (plus two previous) years in office, András Heisler is stepping down as president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of Neolog Jewry and as the date of the general assembly approaches, he is seeking to give an account of his legacy to the Jewish public.

On this occasion, we also try to recall the most memorable achievements of his success story, his particular approach to money, religion, politics and diplomacy.

2013: Succeeded in going from a bankrupt company to the head of Mazsihisz

According to the Neolog tradition, to be a congregation president is a koved (honor), and whoever is elected to this post performs his duties in social work without any remuneration. However, with Heisler’s return, he became the first leader in the history of Neology who does not have an independent existence, but is forced to support himself full-time from his parish office.

Because his own company founded seven years earlier, EMEF Zrt.,

went bankrupt in the year of his election in June 2013, with a loss of 110 million, minus 208 million in equity, and was deleted from the company register in 2019.

With this mountain of debt behind him, he has delegated himself from Mazsihisz to the Public Service Board of the National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH), for which he receives a fee equivalent to 25% of the salary of the Secretary of State, as well as a travel allowance.

In addition, every year since his election, he has tried to persuade the Assembly to vote for a some form of presidential salary for him. He achieved this in 2020, so since then, the President can receive an honorarium.

2014: Succeeded in boycotting of the Holocaust Memorial Year

At the beginning of February, in the run-up to the 2014 parliamentary election campaign, Mazsihisz declared a boycott of the Holocaust Memorial Year, which was announced by the government. They issued an ultimatum to the Fidesz government, consisting of three demands, to agree to participate in the central commemorations:

  1. The dismissal of Sándor Szakály from the head of Veritas,
  2. The non-erection of the statue in Liberty Square, and
  3. Mária Schmidt’s dismissal from the House of Fates project.

After none of the conditions could be enforced, and Fidesz still won with a two-thirds electoral victory, Heisler launched a resistance movement for civil and religious communities, artists and individuals to

reject the funding they had already received from the government.

He promised them that the Memento70 fundraising campaign would provide them with the 210 million forints needed for a fitting commemoration. Some 35 organizations and individuals joined the initiative, which resulted in

just under 6% of the total amount raised, less than 12 million forints.

We still don’t know what happened to this amount, but in the face of the obvious failure, some of the applicants probably had to use the state subsidy in silence.

The project’s domain was abandoned, so anyone visiting the Memento70 website today will find the memory of the Holocaust embedded in a bizarre gambling context.

2015: Succeeded in deeply insulting Angela Merkel

„Praising” the German chancellor’s visit in February, Heisler told the newspaper Hetek that

„Angela Merkel’s visit to the Dohány Street Synagogue was a historic episode in the life of Hungarian Jewry. The last time we had such a distinguished guest from the German side was Adolf Eichmann.”

Former president of the Mazsihisz Péter Feldmájer apologized to the chancellor in an open letter, which was also sent to Népszabadság, expressing his dismay that the statement had linked the chancellor to Adolf Eichmann, who personally planned the extermination of European Jewry and directed the round-up and deportation of Jews living in Budapest.

2017: Succeeded in humiliating Benjamin Netanyahu and Viktor Orbán at the same time

In July 2017, Népszava reported that „after a friendly greeting and highlighting the historic significance of the event, András Heisler delivered a stern speech in the company of Viktor Orbán and Benjamin Netanyahu, which had an unusually harsh tone diplomacy.”

Among other things, he went after Orbán with these words:

„We want to be proud Hungarian Jews in a country where no one’s face can bear the inscription ‘stinking Jew.’”

Netanyahu was also targeted:

„it is painful for our community when in Israel they seek to narrow the religious recognition of Diaspora Jewry.”

2018: Succeeded in losing Hungarian Orthodoxy, and with it kosherism

In the shadow of the noisy internal strife unfolding in Hungarian Orthodoxy today, not many people remember that it was Mazsihisz, now shedding crocodile tears for the former leadership, that chased the handful of Orthodox community from under its suffocating „protective umbrella” five years ago.

„The Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community of Hungary (MAOIH) decided at its general assembly convened on February 25, 2018, to withdraw from the membership of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ). The decision of the Orthodox congregation is based on the rejection of several requests and proposals made by it over the past years.”

One of the reasons for the terse statement was that Mazsihisz did not provide a proportionate share of the inheritance from the state (for property confiscated by the communists) to the Orthodox community, which meant that the community was constantly struggling financially. But it was not only money, but also Heisler’s doctrine of openness to reform communities that contributed to the alienation of the Orthodox.

The exit of Orthodoxy greatly weakened the position of Mazsihisz in the religious Jewish world, since it could no longer provide an acceptable (glatt) kosher service for all Jews.

2019: Succeeded in losing HUF 120 million

In 2019, even the Jewish world press reported that fraudsters had „obtained” HUF 120 million meant for the renovation of the synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén Street.

„Some control points were missed here. The debt of 120 million to the main contractor was paid from the congregation’s own reserves.”

– András Heisler said, shrugging it off. After the incident, no responsible manager was held accountable, and there has been no news about the fate of the missing money.

2020: Succeeded in outsourcing multi-million success fee to own employee

In 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, it was revealed that Mazsihisz paid a $93 million success fee for outsourcing tourism to a company run by its own head of tourism, while the salaries of religious community employees were cut by 20-40%, citing the loss of revenue caused by the epidemic.

Márton Rosta, the Mazsihisz lawyer, considered the payment of the commission not only unethical but also illegal, and was fired from Mazsihisz.

2023: Succeeded in joining a seder with the Jew-hating opposition party leader

The most publicized front page story of this year (so far) was the U.S. ambassador’s seder dinner, where Pressman seated Márton Gyöngyösi, the notoriously Jew-hating leader of the opposition Jobbik party, opposite to the head of Mazsihisz. Contradictory statements about what happened there have come to light.

Gyöngyösi claims to have had what he called an “uplifting” conversation for many hours with the president of Mazsihisz, who assured him that

„the efforts of the party president and his party are seen in the Mazsihisz.”

Heisler, however, said that the Jobbik president’s claim was a blatant lie, that there had been no „uplifting” conversation over long hours, and that

„Mazsihisz is still not engaged in any dialogue with Jobbik, and Gyöngyösi is considered undesirable in Jewish circles.”

Shlomo Köves, the Chief Rabbi of EMIH, was shocked by the news of the event and said that he believed that

Márton Gyöngyösi at the Passover seder table is like having a pedophile guest of honor at a conference on kindergarten education.

2003-2023: Succeeded in forcing Rabbinic Judaism out of Mazsihisz

András Heisler had already served as president of Mazsihisz once, from 2003 to 2005, and the memorable result of his stormy first term was that

He put József Schweitzer, of blessed memory, the last nationally known and recognized Neolog rabbi out on the street from the Rabbinical College, along with everything he represented.

The community was provided a home by an NGO, then by the municipality of the 7th district, and finally the Chief Rabbi found community and appreciation in the Chabad synagogue in the last years of his life.

In 2018, he replaced the rabbi at the head of the bastion of Neology, the Rabbinical College, with a secular hermeneutic, and with his departure, the college is now without a rector.

In 2020, he fired Chief Rabbi Tamas Róna, the democratically elected president of the Neolog Rabbinical Council, and has not spoken to his own rabbinical council since.

In 2023, they could no longer find a Neolog rabbi at all for their own synagogue, the flagship of Neolog rabbinical education, and are forced to employ an Orthodox freelance rabbi.

Could he still return?

One newspaper has reported that Heisler, contrary to his earlier statements, may run in the presidential election on May 14.

According to the paper, Heisler, at the end of his 10-year term as president „cannot rest easy about the continuation of his legacy despite the strong results.” According to Városi Kurír’s „insider sources”

Heisler has been thinking about reelection in recent days.

However, the president, speaking about himself in the third person singular, firmly ruled out running for president again 5 May 5 on Heti TV:

„Andras Heisler has suffered a lot of wounds in 10 years of public life, and that is why I think that he is not the one to continue leading Mazsihisz.”

New leaders elected by the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community

The new leaders pledged closer cooperation with EMIH, preservation of Hungarian traditions in order to revitalize religious Jewish life in Hungary.