High school students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School don’t know what it’s like to live in a communist country, but they received a glimpse from Hungarian teachers who have experienced it firsthand.
After BT teachers traveled to Budapest earlier this year, Hungarian teachers from Jewish day school Scheiber Sandor Gimnazium returned the favor and came to Pikesville.
From Dec. 4 to Dec. 8, seven Hungarian educators spent time at BT talking to classes about Hungary’s recent modern history and its Jewry.
The students learned about life under communist dictator János Kádár, who led the country from 1956 until his retirement in 1988. During one lecture, students heard from teacher Agnes Kokenyesi about Hungarian pop culture. Bands and fashions from the 1960s and ’70s were presented during a slideshow that highlighted similarities between America’s counterculture and Hungary’s movements that included long hair and rock bands. In another lecture, Zsolt Martha taught students about how a communist economy works and why it was ultimately unsuccessful for their country.
Martha said that he knew the trip would be worthwhile but that it “turned out to be really enlightening and good for the [teachers’] professional development.”
“There are many things in our school that don’t really work, and here is a working system,” Martha said of Beth Tfiloh. “We hope to implement [some of it] at home, the way Judaism works here.”
Martha noted that students at BT were asked what they would bring with them if they had to leave the country, and the teacher was pleased with many of their responses.
“More than a quarter of the students said tefillin, a prayer book and a tallis,” he said. “We wouldn’t have that at home. We like the way Rabbi [Mordechai] Soskil includes religion as part of this value system a lot.”
For Kokenyesi, a school psychologist, this is her second time in the United States, but she called this visit a “very different experience.”
“As a psychologist, it’s interesting to see how other schools function and observe relationships between students and teachers,” she said. “It’s useful and an exciting time for me.”
Soskil, BT’s director of Judaic Studies, said what excites him most about the exchange program is “the idea that there are Jewish souls in Hungary that might be sparked by the work we’re doing in Baltimore.”
“Hosting the delegation of teachers and helping them see what we do was very rewarding for two reasons,” Soskil said. “It was so exciting to see our school through fresh eyes and take pride in the great things we’re doing and to hear the teachers talk about what they hoped to implement was so rewarding.”
Soskil added that another important aspect of this visit was that it encouraged the idea of k’lal Yisrael, the entirety of the Jewish people.
“It is a phrase we use regularly, but when it’s said, people usually think ‘all of the Jewish people regardless of observance’ or ‘all of the Jewish people in America and Israel,’” Soskil said. “This is a chance to really think about the Jewish people in so many other places and how we’re connected to communities throughout the world.”