One of my classmates would whisper about me, saying, ‘Why would I pray for a Jew?’
“Growing up in Hungary, Judaism was a central part of my life. I attended a Jewish school. I spent my summers at Szarvas Camp, an international Jewish camp run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. I participated in Hashomer Hatzair, the oldest Zionist youth movement. All of that changed when I moved to a rural part of Ireland with my family at the age of 15.
“I was enrolled in a Catholic school, where I was the only Jewish and Eastern European student. One of my classmates would whisper about me behind my back, saying, ‘Why would I pray for a Jew?’ When I shared photos of Hungarian Jews in concentration camps as part of a history project, my classmates laughed and my teacher said nothing. Those were some of my first experiences with antisemitism and exclusion.
“When I returned to Hungary to start my third year of veterinary medicine, I found it very difficult to reacclimate to Hungarian-Jewish life. Then, I discovered Hillel Hungary. I felt welcome and included in the Jewish community. It helped me reconnect with old friends and make new ones, find balance within myself and exchange ideas and learn.
“Through Hillel, I became involved in the Mathew Bronfman Fellowship. I was able to attend the American Jewish Committee Global Forum in D.C. with 40 other fellows, who represented 10 Hillels around the world. The conference revitalized my sense of Jewishness, and gave me the tools to go from a passive to active member of my Jewish community when combatting antisemitism. Back in Hungary, I plan to use what I’ve learned to strengthen Hillel and create interfaith dialogues. If we hide our Jewish identity out of fear, we’re giving up a core part of ourselves. Through learning and understanding, we can change perceptions and teach mutual respect.” — Dorothy Hajdu, Hillel Hungary