Nourishing Hungarian Jewish organizations, with help from San Francisco

Zsolt Virag participates in a Mozaik Hub conference on LGBTQ inclusion in July, 2017. Photo/Courtesy Mozaik Hub-Valter Berecz.

By Maya Mirsky

When Budapest resident Péter Neumann goes into a room of high school students, he knows he may be the first Jew his audience has ever talked to.

“I regularly get asked if I’m circumcised or not,” he said.

But as coordinator of the educational Haver Foundation, he’s ready for it. The questions he gets are intimate and often shocking, but they are part of a commitment by Neumann and other Haver volunteers to educate young people and prompt critical thinking.

Their work is made possible by the Mozaik Hub, an organization supporting Jewish Hungarian nonprofits. A program of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Hub is supported by a three-year, $121,000 grant from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. It was the lead gift, according to a JDC spokesman.

The Hub was founded in 2015 as a place where Jewish nonprofits like Haver could get professional training and assistance in areas such as fundraising, public relations, strategic planning and managing volunteers.

“It’s about building on the capacity and potential of the local community,” said Hub director Mircea Cernov.

But there’s a larger purpose, too. The Hub wants to be a model for cooperation, dialogue and professionalism in a landscape where nonprofits often feel like they have to compete, whether for attention or funding.

Volunteer training for Haver Foundation. Photo/Courtesy Mozaik Hub.

“I think the role of the Hub is to empower, to support Jewish community life in general in Hungary,” Cernov said.

The Hub provides office space for several nonprofits, including organizations such as Hillel Hungary, which was founded in 2015, and Centropa, which creates multimedia projects out of old family photos. It also offers some financial assistance.

For Haver, the support from the Mozaik Hub means the 15-year-old nonprofit can run its educational programs in 20 or so Hungarian towns each year, reaching a young population at a crucial age, Neumann said.

The Hub also has a roster of affiliated organizations and, through its professional training and roundtable forums on everything from LGBT issues to community journalism, it reaches a wide swath of the contemporary Jewish nonprofit world in Hungary.

Additionally, the Hub has a startup program that helps people develop their passion and ideas into viable nonprofits or programs that work in cooperation with other groups.

“We are also playing the role of catalyst,” Cernov said.

One success story is Adománytaxi (“Charity Taxi”), which picks up and distributes donations. It’s gone from an idea to a newly legal nonprofit foundation. “They have a board, a professional team,” Cernov said proudly.

The Mozaik Hub is just one of the global programs supported by the S.F.-based Federation in partnership with the JDC. According to Rachel Barton, senior engagement officer for the Federation’s Israel and Global network, it’s a way for the Bay Area organization to have a wider impact based on the same Jewish values that motivate its local programs. “It’s important people know we’re doing it,” she said.

“Charity Taxi” volunteers in July 2017 sorting donated books. Photo via Facebook.

The need for something like the Mozaik Hub comes from an environment particular to Hungary as a country rediscovering itself after shedding socialism in 1989. As a new generation of young people began getting interested in Jewish identity and life, they looked for ways to get involved.

“The fact that the ‘official’ Jewish community neither recognized nor funded these groups provided a vacuum that we hoped to fill by weaving together a new ‘community’ that might lead to a self-sustaining Jewish revival among younger Jewish residents of Budapest,” Alan Rothenberg, a member of the Federation’s Global Committee, said in an email.

Initial discussions eventually led to the founding of the Mozaik Hub as a concrete way to achieve that goal.

And according to Colin Bulka, head of the JDC in Hungary, it’s happening. “Within two years, you can absolutely see the beginnings of a change in culture,” he said. Added Haver’s Neumann: “There’s an environment here that facilitates cooperation.”

And that environment, along with the trainings, networking and mentoring the Mozaik Hub offers – as well as the desks, coffee machine and air conditioning – is exactly what allows Haver to keep doing the important work of breaking down ignorance and creating meaningful conversations. “It’s a tremendous support,” Neumann said.

This post first appeared in J. The Jewish News of Northern California; reprinted with permission.