* Hungarian Jews embrace traditions, religion, culture
* Rising anti-Semitism frightens, may unify them
BUDAPEST, Dec 16 (Reuters) - A week after a leader of
Hungary's far-right Jobbik party called for lists of prominent
Jews to be drawn up to protect national security, Janos Fonagy
"My mother and father were Jewish, and so am I, whether you
like it or not," the state secretary of the Development Ministry
told parliament, explaining he did not have dual citizenship
with Israel and was not religious.
"I cannot choose, I was born into this. But you can choose,
and you have chosen this path," he said, addressing Jobbik
deputies. "Bear history's judgement."
It is only relatively recently that Hungary's Jews have
celebrated their identity as openly as they did when Europe's
largest synagogue was built in Budapest in the 1850s.
Now they are determined not to allow a political climate in
which they have to defend that identity or even suppress it.
More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the
Holocaust after Hungary sided with the Nazis in World War Two
and those left in Budapest were forced into two ghettos.
When the Soviet Red Army moved in and liberated the ghettos
in 1945 about 100,000 Jews remained, living reminders of a
collaboration with fascism many Hungarians wanted to forget.
"Even 15 years ago, using 'Jewish' as a brand required quite
some bravery," said Vera Vadas, the director of the Jewish
Summer Festival, launched in 1998. "Now the word just describes
our culture and it draws artists and audiences alike."
From an initial crowd of about 3,000, the number of visitors
at the festival was around 120,000 this year, filling the
cobblestone alleys and courtyards of the city wall to wall.
The biggest of the two wartime ghettos is now a thriving
Jewish quarter, a year-round highlight on Budapest's tourist map
with the huge Dohany street synagogue -- the model for New
York's Central Synagogue -- at its heart.
Around it are more synagogues, museums, businesses, schools
and restaurants, and sometimes a mix of those things, such as a
Talmud class that is taught regularly at one of the famous
Budapest "ruin pubs" - run-down buildings converted into bars.
PROUD OF ROOTS
Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, the young leader of a small, modern
synagogue in southwestern Budapest, said his generation was the
first to be confident of its heritage after their traumatised
grandparents taught their children to play it down.
"My parents' generation, the one born immediately after the
war, was protected so much they never got to experience their
Jewishness," said Radnoti. "They assimilated almost completely."
"Now, my children take their Jewishness naturally, they have
no doubts about their roots. They are kids who live in Hungary,
speak Hungarian and follow the Jewish faith. The vast majority
of young Jewish parents can and do choose this tradition."
Besides religious freedom, the end of Communism in 1989 also
brought a freedom of speech and politics that quickly gave birth
to openly anti-Semitic political forces.
The Jobbik party, the third biggest in parliament, has used
anti-semitic slurs to boost its standing before elections in
2014, drawing international scorn.
The strongest yet greeted last month's call by Marton
Gyongyosi, who runs Jobbik's foreign policy cabinet, for Jewish
members of government and parliament to be listed in the wake of
Israel's recent military campaign to stop rocket fire from Gaza.
"I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people
of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian
parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a
national security risk to Hungary," he told parliament.
Hungary's centre-right government condemned the remarks, for
which Gyongyosi later apologised, and the U.S. Embassy in
Budapest called them "outrageous".
Although anti-Semitism has not yet led to serious physical
confrontations, hate crimes have included desecration of Jewish
cemeteries and a verbal attack in Budapest on 90-year-old former
Chief Rabbi Joseph Schweitzer.
"I don't think all people who vote for Jobbik are
anti-Semites," said Slomo Koves, the chief rabbi of the Unified
Hungarian Jewish Congregation.
"But if Jobbik brings it into the public discourse, even
people who were not anti-Semites before, they feel like it's a
way to show your frustration... The problem is that this has an
effect on the state of mind of all Hungarians."
Andras Heisler, a leader of Mazsihisz, the Association of
Jewish Communes in Hungary, said Jobbik was a danger to Hungary.
"I think this is real racism and inciting hatred. A bad
economic situation, recession, usually flames tempers and this
is the case now as well."
Laden with debt and hit hard by the wider debt crisis in
Europe, the country is struggling to end recession and sort out
its finances, and a series of austerity measures have increased
tensions on the street.
Anti-Semitism has made some Jews more determined to stand up
for their heritage, said Zoltan Jakal, a 36-year-old financial
analyst and part-time cantor.
"I have several friends who have strengthened their Jewish
identity because of a few incidents with anti-Semites," Jakal
said. "When there's peace people tend to forget they are Jews.
If nobody else reminds them of this, anti-Semites will."
Hungary's political elite showed a rare gesture of unity at
a big rally on Dec. 2, where ruling and opposition party leaders
expressed their disdain for Jobbik's politics.
So far, polls suggest Jobbik has retained its voter base.
Among young voters its support is nearly 20 percent, making it
the strongest party in the age group below 30, according to a
Republikon Institute poll earlier this year.
But unlike its hugely successful anti-Roma rhetoric,
anti-Semitism may end up working against Jobbik on the long run,
Republikon Institute Director Csaba Toth told Reuters, because
it will put off potential coalition partners.
"Anti-Semitism gets far fewer votes," he said.
(Additional reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Philippa