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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 18, 2012 i l Young families bringing new life to Budapest synagogues i i i Ruth Ellen Gruber Rabbi Tamas Vero and his wife, Linda Ban Vero, outside Budapest's Frankel Leo Street Synagogue, where they head a growing congregation mainly made up of young families like themselves. By Ruth Ellen Gruber BUDAPEST (JTA)--;- Linda Ban is a rebbetzin, but with a mass of curly hail, and chunky rings on the fingers of both hands, she hardly fits the stereotype of a Central European rabbi's wife. A mother of two in her mid- 30s, Ban is married to Tamas Vero, the 38-year-old spiritual leader of Budapest's Frankel Leo Street Synagogue, a nee- Gothic building hidden in a courtyard near the Danube. The congregation may hold a key to the Jewish future in Hungary. "My husband and I are building a.Jewish commu- nity at our synagogue," Ban says. "But my goal is that our members take Judaism home into their homes." Frankel Leo is among a handful of Budapest syna- gogues that has seen an upsurge of membership and communal engagement in recent years thanks t() active young rabbis and a family- friendly focus. "A year-and-a-half ago, after I took over as rabbi, our synagogue was almost empty, with just eight or nine people coming on Friday nights," said Rabbi Istvan Darvas, 38, of the Dozsa Gyorgy Street Synagogue. "Now we have 60 or more each Friday, and we are still growing." Another of these congrega- tiori's, Bet Shalom, had such an increase in membership that itutgrew its premises. The week before Passover. Bet Shalom, which in the past decade or so has jumped from about 20 members to approximately 250, celebrated the gala inauguration of a rebuilt synagogue complex that includes a new sanctuary thatdoubles the seating of the previous one to 169. The event received main- stream media coverage; speakers included the Israeli ambassador. "It's the first time in 80 years that a congregation has grown so much that it needed a bigger synagogue," said Jozsef Horvath, 43, Bet Shalom's president. "Our old synagogue was too small for the number of people, and there was no place for kiddush and no space for learning." With an estimated 80,000 Jews, Budapest has the larg- est Jewish population of any Central European city. It is home to about 20 Jewish con- gregations, ranging from the dominant Neolog (moderate Conservative) stream to tradi- tional Orthodox and Chabad, to American-style Reform, to informal minyanim such as Dor Hadash. an independent egalitarian congregation that is associated with the Masorti (Conservative) movement. As n other post-commu- nist countries, there has been a revival of Jewish life and identity since the Iron Curtain came down more than 20 years ago. But the rate of intermarriage remains high according to surveys about 50 percent--and most of the city's Jews have noth- ing to do with organized Jewish life. Studies show-that those who- do affiliate often experi- ence Jewishness outside the home and outside the syna- gogue through organizations that range from the city's Jewish community center, to youth groups, to the Jewish summer camp at Szarvas in southern Hungary. Many self-identifyingyoung Jews reject established Juda- ism and gravitate toward an alternative Jewish youth scene that focuses on cafes and cultural events in the trendy downtown Jewish quarter. Against this background, the Frankel Leo, Dozsa Gyorgy and Bet Shalom synagogues are, some say, changing the face of Jewish religious life in Hungary. Led by local rabbis who came of age after the fall of Ruth Ellen Gruber Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti speaking at the ceremony marking the rededication of his synagogue after it was enlarged to three-times its previous size due to the growing community. communism, they are at- tempting to engage young people within the organized mainstream and promote the synagogue as the focus of community, learning and long-term Jewish continuity. "Real and strong com- munities can grow around synagogues where families are engaged," said Mircea Cernov, an educator who attends the Dozsa Gyorgy. synagogue. "Probably the children raised in this environment will have an influence in future years." Horvath, / civil engineer whose wife is a convert to Judaism,agrees. "This is the future," he said. He said he had grownhp in an unaffiliated, nonreligious home. It wasn't until he was about 20 that he learned his mother, a child survivor of the Holocaust, was Jewish. He drew closer to the Jewish world, and to Judaism, when he began to play basketball for the Maccabi sports club in his 20s. He eventually served as the chairman of Maccabi in Hungary for 12 years. "It was when my first son was born that we decided to start keeping more Jewish rules at home,, to light the candles," Horvath said. "And then, two or three years agowe started coming to Bet Shalom as a family." Each of the growing con- gregations has a different orientation, butall three come under Mazsihisz. the official Jewish umbrella organiza- tion. Vero, Darvas and Zoltan Radnoti, the rabbi at Bet Shalom, were all trained at the Neolog Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest. Radnoti now regards him- self as Modern Orthodox, and the new Bet Shalom sanctuary includes a mechitzah, the ritual barrier separating men and women. He and Darvas both recch out to intermarried families or other non-Jews who wish to convert. Most of the congregants at Frankel Leo are young ouples and families who joined Jew- ish youth organizations and went to the S/.arvas Jewish summer camp ias children and teens but had little else to do with organized Jewish life afterward. Now that they are married and lave children, said Linda Ban, they are com- ing back. "Our congregation is totally -based on people we knew at how to have a Jewish home. And I find that sad." A rarity in Hungary, Ban and her husband both grew up in traditional Jewish homes. They use their own lives and upbringings as examples in their teaching of Jewish val- ues. traditions and culture to the young families now join- ing their congregation. In particular, Ban has incorporated her own family history and experiences in a series of illustrated children's books that explain and explore Jews, Jewishness and Judaism in simple yet meaflingfu[ terms geared toward every- one in any extended modern family. "Countless parents have difficulty talking to children about Judaism because they are full of unanswered ques- tions themselves' she wrote in "What Does It Mean to Be Jewish," one of her books that also was published in an English-language edition. "I would like to create opportunities," she wrote, "for all members of the fam- ily grand'parents, parents, Szarvas or other youth ac- step-parents and children, tivities, but some of them we Jews and non-Jews, believers haven't seen for 15 years," she and non-believers alike--to said. "When they become a talk to each other openly family, they want to be Jewish and honestly about Judaism, again. But they don't know without taboos, expectations how tobring Judaism home, or prescribed answers." World's ol0000,.st kitchen By Karin Kloosterman Israe121c Deep in a large cave in South Africa--the size of an airplane hangar--four Israeli scientists were part of an in- ternational team that made an astonishing find: the world's oldest kitchen. There's no hearth or KitchenAid blender here, but it does contain the oldest evidence of fire use by mankind. Dated to one million years ago, the cave predates the earliest accepted case of humans using fire by about 300,000 years. The size and scope of the remains in the dark, somewhat damp cave is so compelling there's no doubt about it. says Liora Kolska Horwitz. a co-director of the research project. As a zooarchaeologist, she helped reconstruct the general layout of the cave environment and the fauna that may have inhabited it or been eaten there. Her He- brew L?niversity colleagues Ari Matmon and Ron Hagai, and Naomi Porat from the Israel Geological Survey, established with good cer- tainty the age of the *cave and the activities that went on inside it. The team of international scientists co-led by Kolska Horwitz and Michael Chazan from the University of To- ronto looked at microscopic traces of wood ash found near animal bones in the Won- derwerk Cave in Northern Cape province. Alongside these remains were stone tools dating from about one million years ago. Chazan said the cave may have provided opportunities for people to develop culture as well as culinary arts. "So- cializing around a camp fire might actually be an essential aspect of what makes us hu- man," he said. Published recently in the Proceedings of the Natk)nal Academy of Sciences, the team's finding is considered monumental for several rea- sons, Kolska Horwitz ex- plains. "The first thing is. we are the only living animal on this planet that cooks food. No other animals do that. There is something unique here in what advantage that gave us. Fire supplied heat- ing and warmth, and allowed us to live in areas that we couldn't otherwise, such as Toronto," Kolska Horwitz tells ISRAEL21c. "Possibly it also helped in defense against wild ani- mals' and for early hominids, against other people," she adds. The ability to cook food has evolutionary advantages as well. It reduces the bio- mechanical pressure on the jaws. making it easier to chew food, says Kolska Horwitz. And cooked food provides a higher caloric intake, en- abling the human brain to expand and grow. She calls the controlled use of fire "'an enormous cultural and tech- nological invention, which Israeli experts are part of a example of a place used for has enabled humans to evolve and develop." The Israeli contributors provided the tools for dat- ing the cave. Hagai, an. expert in paleomagnetism, looked at the switching of the earth's magnetic poles against known reference points. Matom, who specializ- es in cosmogenic burial data. measured cosmic ray decay in soil no longer exposed to the outside air, while Porat studying a South African cave thought to be the earliest socializing. applied luminescent dating techniques to date the cave's layers of sediment. The dolomite cave. at least two billion years old, saw its earliest inhabiltants prob- ably two million years ago. Whether or not people were living in the million-year-old kitchen Kolska Horwitz can't say for sure. "We do know from later periods, that people lived in caves and slept in caves. What we do not have in this cave is a proper hearth as one would build around a campfire. Ttfose appear circa 400.000 years ago." With the invention of the hearth. "People were using fire in a much more routine manner." she says. Before then, working with fire prob- ably was more like "trial and error as you burned down the kitchen." Kolska Horwitz concludes with a laugh.