Dr. Gábor Balázs is in charge of arranging the cultural and educational programs of the 2019 European Maccabi Games. As a man who travelled with an Israeli doctorate degree in his pocket, he was not afraid of the task.
– How does a young man get from a high school in Budapest to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem?
– At the age of 18, I was transferred to the only alternative Jewish club, which was not a Synagogue community. I would call it a civil community, which was led by Tibor Englander, who was the director of the Psychological Institute at the time. He made me aware of the attitude of the Jewish community, which I have never encountered before. Before that, I thought that Judaism was simply a religion and since our family was not religious, I thought I had nothing to do with Judaism. All I knew was, when MTK played Fradi, I rooted for the blue and whites. He was the one who showed me that Jewish people are a population themselves, which sounded strange at first. He made me feel that someone could be committed to tradition and to the modern values and science at the same time. He made me aware of the mixture of these two and I found an example to follow with him. This led me to follow my own Jewish roots. It also became clear to me that I wanted to study Jewish sciences, philosophy, to be exact. It was clear that I had to go to Israel, where I studied at the Hebrew University first, then went on to Bari Ilan University because it had professors who were experts in the field that I was interested in, which was the connection between religion and morals. Since then, most of my papers deal with this topic.
– Did you get what you expected in Israel? Did you have any expectations at all when you went there?
– Before I moved out, I had been in Israel three times within a year. Things started to speed up a little bit. When you move to another country, from Central-Europe to the Middle-East, you cannot avoid the culture shock. I was very enthusiastic which helped me through many difficulties, but I learned how different the culture was there, and the daily routine of the people there is very different. I cannot say which is the right way of living, but I can safely state that the transition is difficult.
– How were your language skills at the time?
– I went out there with almost zero knowledge. I knew the letters, but I could not understand what I read. I had 11 months to learn Hebrew and I put all my effort into it.
– What did you do with the degree when you finished the university?
– I received three papers as there are three levels that lead to a PhD. I stayed at the university and started teaching. I was one of the lucky ones who could immediately make a living out of what I studied. Then there was a crisis with the higher education in Israel, the university was in a very bad place financially and the layoffs began and young teachers did not get a full time job, which was not sufficient to make a living. I had to come back to Hungary, because I received a very good opportunity.
– What have you been doing since then?
– At the time, I thought I was only coming back for a few years. It was not difficult to get re-acclimated and I really like the job that I am doing here.
– What do you do?
– A lot of things which involve Judaism and the connection between it and philosophy. I work at the Lauder Javne Community School, I have a job at the university, but I have a lot of jobs in adult education. They ask my expert opinion regarding Jewish studies and Zionism, which is how I got the job of arranging the cultural and educational programs of the European Maccabi Games.
– How is it progressing?
– We have a complete schedule. If we had to host the games a year earlier, I would say that it is not a problem, because the only thing left is arranging the several lectures and the topics they should cover.
– How difficult it is to cater to Jewish communities who arrive with different passports?
– A significant figure of this whole Zionist movement is Theodor Herzl. He said that „We are one population”. Herzl thought that we are part of the family of the people, just like the other European populations, but we are also members of the Jewish community. Our outside enemies forged us into a group that sticks together. This has been true since then. Jewish people in Europe think of themselves as part of the same people, so it is easier to find common ground as there are many differences in Jewish people in Hungary or France for example. There is a significant common denominator, but it was easy for me to find out what it is since I have been going to Jewish conferences for 25 years, so I was up for the challenge.
– The time of the games is limited and people mainly come here for the sporting events. How can you arrange lectures that are interesting and entertaining to everyone?
– A lot of compromises need to be made and I am the type who can easily make them. I know that this is not a two-week educational program and the educational part is only complementary. From a logistical standpoint, I had to come up with a program that is suitable if it takes place after sporting events. People who know the younger generation understand that a teacher’s task is to develop the skills of the students and to help them develop their own thought-processes.
– Are you excited about the games?
– Yes, very much so. We still have one and a half years left and we have a lot of work to do, but I would not mind if we had to start now.