As part of its Holocaust reparations effort, the Hungarian government gifted a large school building in Budapest to the local Jewish community. The move will allow Chabad-Lubavitch of Hungary to greatly expand its educational options.

The building, which had been vacant for a year, was transferred in June and renovated in time for the beginning of the school year in September.

“It only took two months to renovate the whole thing,” said an amazed Batsheva Oberlander, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Hungary and principal of the new Beis Menachem Children’s Educational Center. “It was quite a miracle!”

Oberlander credited the assistance of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inynoei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, with securing the necessary funds to make the renovations possible. She noted that the building’s opening has made possible a new era of Chabad education in the Hungarian capital.

Avigdor Abergel, a native Israeli who met his Hungarian wife as a student in Budapest, sent his children to the Chabad-run kindergarten last year, but didn’t know what to do with his first-grader until he heard about the new school.

“We would have had difficult problems,” said Abergel. “We couldn’t have stayed, but I don’t know if we would have been able to leave. Now, we are just so thrilled.”

According to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shlomo Koves, who just last year took up the pulpit of an historic synagogue that the government rededicated in the Obuda section of the city, local authorities’ embrace of the Jewish community goes back several years.

“Chabad of Hungary has been running a kindergarten and preschool since 1997 in a small building that was given by the local council,” explained Koves. “But this was located pretty far from the city center. As grew in the school, the building became too small and it was moved to the Keren Or Chabad Community Center.”

That still wasn’t big enough.

With an attached playground, the new building contains plenty of room for continued expansion.
With an attached playground, the new building contains plenty of room for continued expansion.

So when a four-story building located just a 10 minutes’ walk from the main Chabad synagogue and community center was offered to the community, everyone was thrilled.

“We made an agreement with the local authorities that the Chabad community would make the needed renovations of the building as a rental payment,” said Koves, who helped secure the government’s coopeation.

Abergel called the opening of the new school, which combines both religious and secular studies, “a radical change” for the community.

“For those who want to safeguard their children’s Jewish identities, there is now an address,” said Abergel.

“Hungary’s Jewish community lacks experts and leaders who are professional in their own field and at the same time have a deep knowledge in Judaism,” added Koves. “Children who will study in our school will be able to choose either to carry on with their Jewish studies and learn in yeshiva or to choose a secular proficiency.”

With 54,000 square feet of space, the new school has room to expand. And according to Oberlander, already 90 children between the ages of 1 and 13 attend.

“Every day, we have more children,” she exclaimed. “Thank G‑d, we have a lot of space.”