Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

Kobanyai’s essays still reflect a great deal o f elegiac sadness
but also cautious optimism about the fu tu re o f Jewish life in
Hungary. A fter all, since the fall o f the Communist government
in the spring o f 1990, there
been dramatic developments
signaling renewal. In the last year o r so several new Jewish el­
ementary and secondary schools have opened their doors. Major
international Jewish organizations now have offices in Budapest.
Relations with Israel have not only been normalized, bu t con­
tacts between the two countries have multiplied. The newly es­
tablished Hungarian Jewish Cultural Association (Magyar Zsido
Kulturalis Egyesiilet) is quite active, as are Zionist groups that
advocate large-scale emigration. And while some Jewish activists
also suppo rt a proposal to designate the Hungarian Jewish com­
munity an ethnic minority, most Hungarian Jews reaffirm their
Hungarian roots and contend that minority status, enticing and
beneficial though it may seem, would actually be an anachro­
nism in a country with a long tradition o f liberal assimilation.
I t ’s interesting to note that a writer like Janos Kobanyai along
with some o f his contemporaries (Gyorgy Kozma, for example,
an essayist and ar t critic, and Robert B. Tu ran , a playwright)
have jou rneyed to Israel and written extensively about their ex­
periences. Profoundly moved by what they saw and heard , and
surprised and touched, too, by the intensity o f their emotional
response, they have nevertheless commented on the fact that
while in the Holy Land they were more aware than ever o f
their “o therness.” In a way they express the classic dilemma
o f the Diaspora Jew. Because o f their renewed interest in J u ­
daism, they feel too Jewish in Hungary, but they are also be­
wildered, intimidated, pu t o ff by the “concen trated” Jewishness
o f Israel.6
T h e re is more open talk nowadays in Hungary about similar
conflicts experienced by earlier generations o f Hungarian writ­
ers, including those who are though t o f today as modern classics.
Poets and novelists like Milan Fust, Erno Szep, Dezso Szomory,
T ibo r Dery were born and in most cases came o f age du ring
the pre-1914 golden age o f liberal assimilation, and could th e re ­
fore identify with the Hungarian ethos unequivocally, whole­
6. See for example, Gyorgy Kozma, “Itt van a jegy a zsebemben” (My Ticket
Is In My Pocket). In
Elet es Irodalom,
February 16, 1990: 12.