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March 13, 1987 - Image 46

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-03-13

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Jewish Journey

Continued from Page 44




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Friday, March 13, 1987




States," Strom said. "They have the same
kinds of jobs. There is a Jewish children's
choir in Budapest, young peoples' chavurot,
Shabbat services, study groups.
"Of course, you can't compare it to the
way it was, but there are still Jews writing
stories and plays, some artists, lots of
creativity in music. It's not just a relic of
the past. They are still creating. There are
Jews living, breathing and creating in
Eastern Europa"
And living as Jews. Strom's favorite ex-
ample of that is a man whose name is Bela
Hap but who is known as Ephraim and
who lives in Budapest with his wife and
two children.
"For the first 37 years of his life,
Ephraim had no interest in Judaism,"
Strom said. "He knew he was Jewish and
that was about it. His parents were
staunch communists. He did marry a Jew-
ish woman, not because he looked for one
but because he fell in love with one.
"A couple of years ago, Ephraim went to
visit friends in Belgium where there is a
strong Chasidic community. That made -
him realize that he felt he was missing
something in his life. And so over the last
couple of years, he's become more and more
religious. He invited us to his house for
Shabbos. The feeling there, the cholent, it
was like going back a hundred years, like
my bubbie was in the room.
"Sunday morning, when we were ready
to leave, I saw a table set up and men in
white coats. I thought, 'Oh boy, there's go-
ing to be a bris. How many chances will I
get to see that in Eastern Europe.' And so
we got ready to photograph it. All of a sud-
den, I see Ephraim pull down his pants,
look at me and smile. 'It's my bris,' he said.
I couldn't believe it. All of a sudden he's
on the table, a 41-year-old man having a
bris. He said he wanted to be one with the
Jewish people."
Strom's favorite Jewish place in Eastern
Europe was Dorohoi, a little town in north-
east Romania. "It's almost like a shtetl of
the 1920s. People speak Yiddish on the
streets. It's like time has stood still for 60
And, Strom said, there should be Jewish
life in Romania for at least another 60
years. With 28,000 Jews, Strom said,
Romania is a "very strong community,
very traditional and strong not only in
Bucharest but in several other cities. They
have a network connecting the kehillot,
several rabbis and, in Chief Rabbi Moshe
Rosen, a very charismatic leader, who's
also a member of the Parliament.
"Romanian Jews, on the other hand, are
also very Zionistic and leave in droves to
Israel. Aliyah is what's going to cause the
end of the community."
Hungary, said Strom, is another strong
community and the one, he said, that will

be around the longest. With more than
80,000 Jews, it has the largest Jewish
population in Eastern Europe outside of
the Soviet Union, the only rabbinical
seminary in Eastern Europe, 15
synagogues in Budapest alone, a day
school and a relatively high birthrate. Also,
because of its large population of Satmar
Chasidim, Hungarian Jews get a regular
influx of visitors and money from Satmars
who live in New York and Israel.
Czechoslavakia, by contrast, is a dying
community. Virtually all of Czechoslavak-
ia's 10,000 Jews live in Prague, the only ci-
ty with any real life left. Prague, however,
does offer some hope, Strom said, thanks
to the recent appointment of the first rab-
bi in 20 years and to the presence of the
Alteneushul, the oldest synagogue still in
use in Eastern Europe. Those factors,
Strom said, have "caused a rebound with
a substantial number of Jews freshly com-
mitted to their culture and to teaching it
to their children."
That's not the case in Yugoslavia, the
most secular Jewish community in East-
ern Europe. "They have one rabbi who's 75
years old and they won't have another one."
But, he says, the country's 7,000 Jews do
have a strong central organization, a
Jewish newspaper and a community center
and so should last for awhile. The end,
Strom said, will come as a result of
Poland, too, is a community "going
downhill." But, Strom said, thanks to a re-
cent revival of interest in Judaism among
young Polish Jews in Warsaw and Kracow,
"it's going downhill at a slower rate, only
45 MPH, not 60." Ironically, Strom said,
it is the interest of non-Jewish Poles in
maintaining "the great Jewish culture"
that "gives a spark of hope. But with only
5,000 Jews, much assimilation, much death
and not enough kids, Poland's future
doesn't look bright."
It will not, however, be the first Jewish
community to go. Bulgaria, with 4,000
Jews, Strom said, will likely win that
dubious honor. "There is no sense of com-
munity, no young people, no rabbis, no
education. It will be the first to die."
As for Odessa and Kishinev, the two
cities in the Soviet Union he visited, Strom
said they will stay Jewish for a long time
if for no other reason than that they're not
allowed to. "If they can't, you can be sure
they're going to." In fact, both cities have
one synagogue each, a daily minyan and
a strong sense of community. "There is a
lot of holiday celebration and studying of
The bottom line, said Strom, is that there
will be Jewish life in most of Eastern
Europe for at least another generation and
in Hungary and Romania for at least
another 70 or 80 years. "As one woman told

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