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Discovering Jewish roots – former anti-Semitic party leader meets with rabbi Köves

After resigning on July 28, 2012 from his far-right party following an uproar over the discovery of his Jewish roots, former Hungarian “Jobbik” party (a play on the words: “Movement for a better or right leaning Hungary”) former vice-president Csanád Szegedi has met on Friday, August 3 with Chabad Rabbi Slomó Köves, leader of the EMIH Jewish Community. Jobbik is a far-right party that defines itself as radical and has 45 seats in Hungary’s 386-seat parliament. Csanád Szegedi (29) is one of 3 Jobbik representatives in the Hungarian delegation of 22 to the 754-member European parliament. Some of Jobbik party’s messages have been considered strongly anti-Semitic. Jobbik MP Zsolt Baráth caused outrage in Hungary when in an April speech in Parliament he commemorated the 130th anniversary of the Tiszaeszlár blood libel, seen as one of the first anti-Semitic events in modern-era Hungary. “It was an objective speech and Mr. Baráth was well prepared. There will be no apology, no resignation” current Jobbik vice-president Előd Novák said at the time. In a June interview, Csanád Szegedi said his grandparents grew up in Miskolc as orthodox Jews, an announcement that stirred emotions among Hungarian politicians and supporters of Jobbik. Since then, Hungarian media reporters have been constantly updating and analyzing the details of the story and it has been kept on the top of the news. Recounting his reaction to the Szegedi’s request, Rabbi Slomó Köves said that he “was stunned,” according to the biggest Hungarian daily Népszabadság, “But as a rabbi, it is my duty to receive anybody requesting spiritual advice or seeking information about Judaism,” he said in explaining his decision to agree to the meeting. Chabad Lubavitch of Hungary was established in 1989 by Rabbi Baruch and Batsheva Oberlander. Chabad is very active in outreach and runs a big Kindergarten and Day-school in Budapest. Rabbi Köves is one of 12 Chabad rabbis in Hungary, and is currently the Rabbi of the famous “Óbuda Shul”. Népszabadság reported that Szegedi apologized to the rabbi, saying, “Had I made any comments in the past years that offended the Jewish community, I ask for forgiveness.”“Szegedi is in the midst of a difficult learning process of self-awareness and re-evaluation,” said the rabbi, “we all hope that it will end positively. Whether this will happen or not depends on his own free will.” Both of Szegedi’s maternal grandparents are survivors of the Holocaust who had an Orthodox Jewish wedding after the war. Afterwards they decided to keep it all a secret from their children and grandchildren. Their attempt was successful for over six decades and their descendants have just recently discovered their Jewish roots. Csanád Szegedi, explaining why he sought out specifically Köves’ advice, told the HVG.hu, a leading Hungarian news website: “I see Rabbi Köves as the most authentic Jewish representative” and added: “In certain aspects, we share the same fate. His grandparents also kept their identity as a secret for a long time. There is no generation gap between us. I felt that this will make it easier for us to talk. As a politician I always felt it important to have a common language. Now that I have been faced with my Jewish roots, that I do not regret at all, keeping in touch with the leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community has become especially important for me”. Szegedi also expressed a desire to visit Auschwitz, where his grandmother was held by the Nazis, in order to pay his respects to the Holocaust martyrs.ATV, a leading Hungarian TV channel, interviewed Rabbi Köves, wishing to understand how such an anti-Semitic person full of hatred can change his views so suddenly, to which Köves answered: “He experienced discrimination and hatred first-hand, which other people feel in a life time, so he came to realize the implications of his activities”. The rabbi expressed reserved encouragement to the ex-Jobbik vice-president following the meeting. “I wish him that he should be able to correct his past. He can do that best, if, apart from getting to know his own roots, he does everything in his power to keep others from being led astray, like he had been,” said Köves. As a response to a large number of requests, Rabbi Slomó Köves summarized his view on Szegedi’s visit and posted it in www.zsido.com, the biggest web portal of Jewish content in Hungarian, run by Chabad of Hungary. “I am aware of the issue's sensitivity and the responsibility it places on all of us”, Köves writes, “I have asked a personally experienced and more knowledgeable person, Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, to further clarify and guide this issue in the event that it will be necessary.” “Our part is to give him every opportunity to choose what is right”continues Rabbi Köves , “Yet, his personal fate remains in his own hands” “I call on my own community and the general public to await the outcome of the case and not to set hasty judgment,” concludes the rabbi. Although Szegedi resigned from all his former positions in the party, he intends on keeping his seat in the European Parliament until the end of his term in 2014. Last month Köves, who was challenged to a debate by Gábor Vona, leader of the far-right party, outright declined the request. “Here is a party which makes openly anti-Semitic comments,” he said at the time, “what is there to debate about.”

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11

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