In a decision by the Hungarian government, EMIH—the Jewish community represented by Chabad in Hungary—will begin to receive funds as part of Hungary’s annual restitution payments.
The funds, geared towards the revival of communal religious life, will compensate the historic religious establishments in Hungary for properties confiscated during the communist regime. Of these, the majority are Christian. Three are Jewish.
“This is cause for tremendous relief and celebration,” Rabbi Shlomo Koves, one of Chabad’s representative to Hungary and executive rabbi of the EMIH community, told lubavitch.com shortly after the decision was formalized.
“We fought for this over a period of many years during which EMIH was serving a large number of Hungarian Jews, but had not been designated to receive restitution funds.”
The funds will be made in four annual installments, with EMIH receiving about 150 million HUF (Hungarian Forint)—the equivalent of today’s currency exchange rate at approximately $679,000 annually, with a 10 % increase every year, capped at around $990,000 US.
About 2000 Jews weekly attend any of Budapest’s Chabad’s five affiliated synagogues, and another two in Debrecen and Szeged. Established with the fall of communism under the leadership of Chabad’s Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, Chabad has spawned a significant Jewish revival. Today, EMIH—founded by Rabbi Koves in 2004—is one the most active Jewish religous organizations in the country, serving about 15,000 Jewish families, a sizable number of Hungary’s 100,000 Jews.
“The first thing we’ll do is pay up the debt EMIH recently accumulated by launching several new, critical projects that really exceeded our budgeting capacity,” said Rabbi Koves. Among those projects were the return and renovation of the historic Obuda synagogue in central Budapest, and the opening of a Jewish day school several months ago.
With a starting enrollment of 100 students, from preschool through 6th grade, Beis Menachem, as the school is named, offers Hungary’s Jewish children the only bi-lingual school with a strong academic curriculum.
“The school provides a very high quality education in all subjects. Children study their Judaic courses in Hebrew, and their secular studies in Hungarian,” Koves explained.
Rabbi Koves—one of about eight Chabad representatives in Hungary—is himself a native Hungarian who recovered his Jewish heritage through Chabad.
“It is not an overstatement to say that most Jews here who have embarked on a Jewish journey of return have been inspired in one way or another by Chabad,” he said, noting that the educational opportunities provided by Chabad have contributed significantly to the country’s Jewish renaissance.
The restitution funds, which cover only one third of the organization’s annual budget, he said, will go a long way to grow EMIH’s programs and services to benefit greater numbers, and to enhance the Jewish experience of Hungary’s Jews.