Hungary’s Annual Cholent Festival

September 23, 2021 | Eliana Rudee
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On August 29, a Hungarian Jewish organization held its sixth annual cholent festival in Budapest, named for the slow-cooked stew that is traditionally placed in an oven or on a stove on Friday, to be served for the afternoon meal the next day without violating restrictions on cooking on Shabbat. Last year, the celebration—which attracts both Jews and non-Jews—had been canceled due to the pandemic. Eliana Rudee reports:

According to a 1941 census, Hungary had a Jewish population of 825,000, less than 6 percent of the total population. Nearly two-thirds—as many as 568,000—perished during the years of World War II and the Holocaust, the majority in the final year of the war, one of the last major European Jewish populations to be rounded up by Nazi Germans.

Between December 1944 and the end of January 1945, the fascist Arrow Cross Party installed in Hungary at the time took as many as 20,000 Jews from the ghetto in Budapest, shot them along the banks of the Danube and threw their bodies into the river. A monument called “Shoes on the Danube Bank” pays homage to the victims.

The Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Eliezer Nogradi, who invited Jewish festivalgoers to wrap tefillin, estimated that 30-to-40 percent of the festival participants were Jewish. The non-Jews among the crowd have nevertheless shown “respect and interest,” he [stated]. The Jews, [according to Nogradi], are still “careful about being Jewish outside, some are even scared to tell their children [that they are Jews], . . . after the Holocaust and Communism.”

By midday, more than half of the 6,000 portions of kosher cholent were sold. The festival offered hundreds of pounds and several varieties of it—vegan, Hungarian, Israeli, Tunisian. The festival also featured live performances by the ḥasidic rapper Nissim Black, an American who made aliyah, and the English singer/songwriter Alex Clare, who also lives in Israel.

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