Szim Shalom community, Budapest (Hungary):
Rabbi Katalin Kelemen's induction service
Kelemen was inducted as spiritual leader of Budapest’s
community during a ceremony held there in 1999 on March 7. Over 200 persons
were in attendance, many of them from overseas. The ceremony was conducted
by Rabbi Fred Morgan of Melbourne, Australia. The Hungarian-born Kelemen,
who is the country’s first Progressive rabbi, was trained for the rabbinate
at Leo Baeck College in London.
Budapest has a Jewish population of 70,000, many of whom are
rediscovering their Jewish heritage following 50 years of Communist
suppression. Here is Rabbi Katalin Kelemen`s address:
In the autumn of 1997, on
a clear moonlit October night sitting in the Pesti Vigado theatre, I was
brushed by the spirit of the Eternal. We all received a unique gift from the
uncrowned "king of
Klezmer" Giora Feidmann. The concert ended in such a way that
the magic spell remained unbroken: Having taught the crowd the melody of the
last song we had heard, he asked us to continue singing it. Almost
unnoticed, he left the stage, and left us with the gift of the traditional
Jewish melody full of joy, beauty and longing to be passed on further from
our lips. With that gesture, and in that special moment, the song and the
moment became part of the eternal cycle of "passing on, beginning again and
"Who is that man
who desires life,
loves the days, that he may see good?..."
What is that so binds me
in those simple, almost trivial words? Perhaps it is that in my own personal
life journey, it has only been in recent years that the ties and links of
the love of life, the joys of everyday life, have begun to intertwine and
link with the ties and links of religious
Judaism. Only recently has it begun to feel natural for me that
this approach to life speaks to me in the words of a Hebrew Psalm, thousands
of years old, and that I consider it my own sacred text.
I belong to the generation
born after the
Shoah, a generation raised in an assimilationist spirit, and a
generation which, even as grown adults, has experienced its sole link to its
Judaism - by no other channels than - through the almost mythical stories of
those who disappeared in the camps or through the stories of those family
members who miraculously survived.
We know that not only in
Hungary, but rather in all of
Europe`s surviving Jewish communities there were very few who
were able to retain their religious faith at all, and then perhaps only
truly after experiencing deep internal crises. But exactly from among them
emerged, following the war, the renewing and ascendant buds and blossoms of
One of the very few
examples is the charismatic rabbi Jacob Soetendorp who became the "renascent
Dutch reform Jewish movement and the founder of a rabbinic dynasty leaven"
of the One of his rabbi sons, Awraham Soetendorp, hidden as a small boy
during the war with strangers, recounts in the most recent edition of
European Judaism in this way:
"It must have been a
year or two after I was found again and rejoined my family, having been
in hiding for two-and-a-half years, that my father told me that after
birkat ha-mazon, when usually it is sung:
"Na’ar hayyiti v'gam zakanti", "I have been a lad, and I
have come of age, but I have never seen a righteous one forsaken whose
children had to roam for food",
that these words would not be said any more, but were to be
supplanted by other words, from Isaiah 26 and Psalm 9):
"Bitchu b'adonai b’adei ad, ki b’yad adonai tsur olamim,
v'yivtechu v'kha yod'e sh'mekha, ki lo- azavta dorshekha adonai".
"Trust in God forever, because He constitutes your rock forever. And
those who really know Your name will put trust in You again, for you
have not forsaken forever those who seek You".
A subtle change which I did not understand, and for years did not
understand, but felt in my bones. Never, nowhere in the world has this
been done, and it has expressed to us and to the family the paradox, our
anger, our anguish, with God’s presence and absence, and at the same
time the continuation of our faith." (The Teaching of Compassion R.
Awraham Soetendorf European Judaism, Autumn ’98 pp21-22)
In my family it was not
like that. For my parents, following my grandfather’s death from starvation
at Buchenwald, religion went over to the "other side," among those things
never to be experienced again. It took me decades of my life before I was
able to feel that, in the context of a traditional prayer I could express my
deepest feelings. Barely seven years ago, after twenty four years I was
able, for the first time, to say Kaddish for my father and mourn his
premature death. I was able to do so in a synagogue in a small English city,
and it is my greatest joy and privilege that five of those having shared
with me that event are celebrating here with us today. Rabbi Fred Morgan,
who has symbolically passed to me the Holy Scripture, the Torah, on that
morning called me up to read from the Torah for the first time with the
Hebrew name I had chosen: Sarah, so that with that reading I could become
Bat Mitzvah, Daughter of the Law. This happened between the walls of a
reform synagogue, and the name of the city was Weybridge, the "Way," and the
"Bridge." My path or "Way" to my Judaim, and to becoming a rabbi led through
Reform Judaism mean to me?
- It means the simultaneous experience
of the spirit of tradition and renewal, and the linking together of the
personal and the universal. It means the freedom with which rabbi Jacob
Soetendorp, of his own accord, changed the text of the liturgy in order
to acknowledge and pay tribute to the tragic turn of fate and history,
while at the same time remaining true to the faith and in so doing
giving new strength and reaffirmation to that faith within the
traditional religious context.
- It means the „Seventy Faces of the
Torah," about which I heard for the first time at the Leo Baeck College,
Europe’s only Reform Jewish Seminary. The „Seventy Faces of the Torah,"
that is to say the unlimited possibilities for interpretation of the
Scripture, in particular as reform Judaism asserts that every member of
every new Jewish generation has the opportunity to encounter the
- It means an attitude of openness to
paradox in the Jewish sprit which takes into account the complexities
and ambiguities of life, and serves as a true reflection thereof.
- It means belonging to a small
community seeking spiritual values and meaning, in which women and men,
consistent with the practices (or at least the expectations) of modern
society, participate on an equal basis.
We established this
community, the first Progressive Jewish community in Hungary since World War
II, in 1992. We chose our name, Sim Shalom, from the lines of the
prayer. Sim Shalom means: Grant us peace.
The path which led us from
those first meetings of a handful of friends to today was not always
peaceful. It has been filled with every day obstacles, demanding sacrifices,
tiring, unimpressive and inglorious efforts, but it has also been filled
with those special moments, the memories of which warm our hearts and give
us the strength and motivation to go forward, and which will give us the
strength and motivation to carry forward in difficult moments in the future
I give my most heartfelt,
honest and deepest thanks to those founding members who nursed and cared for
Sim Shalom at its birth, and who subsequently, not untiringly but overcoming
their fatigue again and again and rising phoenix-like with new energy and
renewed vigour continue to find the way forward.
I also thank those members
who have joined us subsequently for their support and for the growing
commitment with which they take part in the joys and the difficulties of
involved in building the community.
It is of great joy and
honour to me that so many representatives and rabbis of the
World Union of Progressive Judaism are celebrating with us
today. Without their moral, spiritual and financial support we would not be
here today. Neither a dynamic, vital congregation, nor I, the newly inducted
rabbi of that congregation would be here were it not for that support.
my vision for the future of Sim Shalom
and for my work and task therein?
To continue on the path on
which we have begun, but in our own synagogue, enriched and strengthened
with many new members, with a Cheder for children and many more inspiring
learning possibilities for adults as well.
The continuation of such
moments like that, when in our Torah study circle we consider ourselves
Jacob - Israel; like Jacob the "crooked", like he who struggles with G'd,
and like Israel "straightened" by G'd as well.
The continuation of
moments such as that in which one of our members tenderly placed the tallit
he had inherited from his grandfather on the shoulders of a grieving member
of the community so that we could say
The continuation of
moments such as our first celebration of Simchat Torah, when one of the
guiding spirits of our community, an older member, renewed as "b’reshit
kala", "the bride of the beginning" begins the new annual cycle of the
reading of the Torah while at her feet our youngest members scrambled and
crawled on the floor delighted with their flying paper "Torah birds" and
"Torah airplanes" taken directly from the story of Creation.
My wish is that
Sim Shalom should grow rich with such moments and joys, and many more like
them, so that we ourselves should become the persons of the psalm „Mi ha
ish"... so that "we desire life, we love the days, that we may see good."
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