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Finding Jews at the Sziget Music Festival

Finding Jews at the Sziget Music Festival

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The Sziget Music Festival is one of the largest in Europe, with close to 500,000 participants, including several thousand Israelis. For the past few years, Rabbi Shmuel Glitzenstein, youth director of Chabad of Budapest, has arranged for roving rabbis to man a table at the venue, and this year we were fortunate enough to fill that role for a whirl-wind seven days.

We helped 300 men don tefillin, including 50 ‘bar mitzvahs’, and on Friday evening 50 women lit Shabbat candles and 125 people joined us for kiddush.

While we didn’t have the opportunity to get to know people very well in fast-paced, chaotic environment, some encounters stood out:

Yoram, a 17-year-old Israeli boy was walking with his friends when we spotted him. We asked if he would like to put on tefillin. “I’m secular. I don’t do things like that,” he replied. After a moment, he reconsidered, and said that if we would explain what tefillin symbolize, he might agree. Of course, we took him up on his offer, and spent 25 minutes sharing everything we know about tefillin. It seemed like Yoram was enjoying the discussion, but then in typical teenage fashion, he told us that he was hungry and wanted to go eat with his friends. “I’m here for a few days. If there's a time when I feel like I am ready, I will find you and put on tefillin,” he said.

The next morning, we saw Yoram again. We greeted him warmly, and he responded by telling us and his friends that it felt like the right time. So without further ado, we helped him wrap up and recite the blessings. “It’s your Bar Mitzvah, Yoram! Mazal tov!”

On the last night of the festival, Yoram made a point to visit us again--no easy feat with the huge throngs of people everywhere--and thanked us for his bar mitzvah.

One night, we were leaving the festival and passed a tattoo shop. A young man standing outside called out to us, “Hey, where are you guys from? I’m Jewish too!” We stopped and chatted for several minutes and discovered that Matt was born and bred in Budapest. He knew that he was Jewish but hadn’t had a Jewish education. The next morning, we visited the shop before beginning our day, and asked Matt if he would like to do the mitzvah of tefillin. He seemed shocked that we would even suggest it! “Look, that’s really not my thing. As you can see, I’m not religious at all.”

“Hey Matt, it’s cool. You don’t have to be religious to put on tefillin! Hundreds of Jewish people at the festival have done it. It will be your bar mitzvah!”

It took a bit more convincing, but Matt did eventually agree, and when all was said and done, thanked us for the experience in a voice thick with emotion. Since he was a local, we took down his contact information and gave it to the local Chabad rabbi. G‑d willing, his bar mitzvah outside the tattoo shop is just the beginning of his journey of Jewish discovery.

While we will never know the trajectory of their lives, we are hopeful that the encounters we had with the participants of the music festival will continue to have a positive impact for years to come.


Efraim Block & Yehuda Carlebach
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