Janos Ader made West Coast history last week by becoming the first sitting president of the Republic of Hungary to visit a synagogue. Ader was accompanied at Congregation Bais Naftoli by his wife and a 14-member high-level delegation. Bais Naftoli president and attorney Andrew Friedman hosted a breakfast in the president’s honor.
Ader was welcomed by Rabbi Avi Leibovic and Friedman. Following the president’s greetings, Rabbi Leibovic recited a special blessing required when greeting the president of a country with the constitutional power to pardon individuals. Friedman then recited the prayer in Hungarian, requesting the Almighty to bestow health on the president and members of the congregation.
The program’s highlight was Ader’s comments regarding recent remarks made by Hungary’s deputy prime minister. Included in the deputy’s remarks was the pronouncement that every Hungarian must face the responsibility that 70 years ago Hungarians killed their fellow Hungarians. Another point he made was that living survivors should be compensated, while their memories must be kept alive. This is the responsibility of all Hungarians, the deputy prime minister said. Hungary has pledged to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust by stressing the importance of the sentiment, “never again.”
The Hungarian leader presented the congregation with a booklet in memory of the synagogue’s founder, Alex Friedman. The booklet contains three memorable speeches delivered by Ader – at the Israeli Knesset, at the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, and at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. In each of these speeches, Ader reaffirmed Hungary’s responsibility in the Shoah.
In recent years, Hungary has actively attempted to combat the rise of anti-Semitism throughout Europe. Among its actions has been the country’s introduction of an annual “Hungarian Memorial Day” for Holocaust victims on April 16; the government’s creation of a Holocaust museum; and the 2012 declaration of Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Year. And recently, Hungary raised – by 50 percent – the pensions of Holocaust survivors.
While Congregation Bais Naftoli officially expressed its appreciation for the Hungarian government’s outreach efforts, congregants agreed that much still remains to be done to eradicate the cancer of anti-Semitism.