Reunion 2012

       In June 2012, my daughters and I took a long awaited trip to visit our new found relatives in Hungary and Israel.  I had been in contact with them via Skype and e-mail for close to two years, and I was excited and eager yet a little nervous and apprehensive about meeting them.  I needn't have worried--we were greeted with warmth and affection and shown hospitality on a royal scale.

    The relatives are all part of my SCHREINER/LICHT family originating in Körmend.  One branch went to Budapest, another to Szabadka (now Subotica, Serbia), and my branch immigrated to the United States.  All three branches left Körmend in the late 1800s, so this was the first time the family had been reunited in over 100 years.  Information about the individual branches can be found on the Schreiner branches: descendancy chart link on the home page or here:

Schreiner branches 

     The first part of our trip was spent in Hungary.  Our relatives there are Eva and her husband, Eva's children Tomi and Melinda and their families, and Eva's sister-in-law Mary and Mary's daughter Judit.  We were picked up at the airport and driven to Eva's house in Budapest, where a feast of a chicken, corn, potato and pineapple stew and a salad had been prepared for us.  Some of our Hungarian relatives speak excellent English, others understand only words, but communication was never a problem.  Goodwill made up for any linguistic misunderstandings.

     Our first day of touring we spent the morning in the Holocaust Memorial Center with Tomi and Judit where I was able to examine the materials donated by K. Komjáthy, a local historian in our ancestral town of
Körmend.  I didn't find anything related to our family, but some of the information I found has been used to update this web site.  In the afternoon, we played tourist on Castle Hill in the Buda district, visiting the St. Matyas church, exploring the ruins of a medieval fort, watching the changing of the guard at the President's House, taking in the magnificent view of the Danube from the Fisherman's Bastion, and finally taking the incline railway down the hill where we caught a bus back to the Pest side of the city.  Dinner was another feast of fish, rice, potatoes, mushrooms and salad provided us by Judit's mother Mary (Eva's sister in law).

                  Sara, Judit, Tomi

my daughters Alisa and Sara, and our cousins Judit and Tomi

       Our second day Eva's husband took Judit, my girls and I on a day trip to Körmend, where we met Mr. Komjáthy.  We had lunch with him at a local restaurant.  He was an elderly, yet very spry and courtly fellow and seemed almost overwhelmed to have us visit, taking my hands in his and kissing them over and over.  He doesn't speak a word of English, so he spoke entirely to Eva's husband, who translated for us as best he could.  After lunch, Mr. Komjáthy took us on a walking tour of the center of town, where the majority of the Jewish population used to live.  He pointed out buildings where Jews had businesses, where the former synagogue was, where the rabbi's house was, the hospital founded by two Jewish physicians and we stopped by the Holocaust memorial, a beautiful ceramic rendition of a photograph showing Jews being marched to the railway station.  We were very distressed to see that the memorial had been vandalized, with some of the side panels torn off.  After our tour, Mr. Komjáthy invited us to his home for refreshments, which were very much appreciated in the hot weather.  On our way out of town, we came across the Jewish cemetery quite by accident and decided to stop.  The main gate was locked, but my daughter Sara discovered that there was a path through the neighboring Catholic cemetery that led into the Jewish cemetery.  The Jewish cemetery is divided into two parts--the "old" cemetery and the "new" cemetery.  The headstones in the old cemetery are overgrown with ivy and grass.  The headstones are exclusively in Hebrew that is faded and mostly illegible, and many are broken or have fallen over.  The headstones in the new cemetery are in good condition, with much less ivy and grass.  I took as many pictures of as many headstones as I could in the remaining time we had left.  They are posted on this web site and can be seen on the "cemetery tombstones" link.  I'm not sure it was the most exciting or fun-filled day for my daughters, as it was a 6 hour round trip drive and I'm not sure that they could really connect to the significance of walking in the footsteps of their ancestors, but for me it was a highlight of the time we spent in Hungary.  Imagining that my ancestors had walked in the very places that we were walking was very meaningful for me.

kalman and
                  memorial group
in the restaurant; me and Mr. Komjáthy
at the Holocaust memorial
with Mr. Komjáthy and Eva's husband Tibi
side view of the Holocaust memorial
showing vandalism

     The following day we toured the magnificent Dohany synagogue in the morning.  It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world.  Services are held there regularly, and Tomi said that his family used to attend High Holiday services there, but that now they attend another synagogue.  Seeing the memorial to Raoul Wallenberg was especially poignant as Eva's mother Magda was protected in a Wallenberg safe house.  In the afternoon, we took a cruise on the Danube, which was another lovely way to see the city.  In the evening, as it was Friday, I attended services with Eva's husband Tibi at their local synagogue.  He was saying Yahrzeit for his brother and I wanted to say Kaddish for my uncle (also a LICHT descendant) who died in November.  Though it was a Neolog (the Hungarian equivalent of Reform) community, the women sat in a women's section in the rear of the sanctuary, and a male member of the congregation said Kaddish on my behalf.  The ceremony was mostly in Hebrew, though the melodies were different than the ones I'm familiar with.  The service was very short.  For the Oneg we sat at long tables in the social hall and were served cola and pastries.  I was seated next to a young Hungarian woman who now lives in London and had returned to visit family.  She was the only fluent English speaker there and was able to translate for me when the Rabbi gave a drash on the Torah portion.  After the drash, a man stood up and asked to address the group.  He had just returned from visiting relatives in Florida and wanted to share his experiences.  I found it rather ironic and amusing (listening to the translation) as he described his amazement at how different it was in America, where women read from the Torah, and could even be Rabbis and Cantors!   

        On Saturday, Eva and I went into the city to do some shopping, while Tibi stayed at home preparing a traditional goulash.  They have a fire pit in their backyard, and the goulash slow cooked in a cast iron pot all day over the fire.  It was delicious!!  The entire family came to have dinner with us and we all exchanged gifts.


shopping with Eva

     On Sunday, we departed for Israel, where we were met by the former Szabadka branch of the family.  This branch consists of three brothers who live in Rehovot (Yossi), Beersheva (Meir) and Yerucham (Yakov) and their families.  Meir picked us up at the airport and took us to Yossi's house for dinner.  Communication was somewhat easier for me, as I speak passable Hebrew.  The hardest part for my girls for the entire trip was that everything had to be translated for them all the time, both in Hungary and in Israel. 

Yossi and

Yossi (standing), Sara, Alisa, me and Meir

Our first full day in Israel we spent in Beersheva, where Meir took us to the Bedouin shuk and then to Rahat, a nearby Bedouin villageWe went to the Bedouin Cultural Center, where a group of Jewish elementary school children from Yavne were visiting.  There was very loud music and energetic dancing and heartfelt speeches by representatives from Rahat and Yavne about the importance of cultural sharing, understanding and good relationships between the various ethnic communities of Israel.  When the students had left and our ears had stopped ringing we were given a private tour of the Cultural Center and learned much about the traditional life of the Bedouin.  In the afternoon, while Meir went back to the airport to pick up Eva and Tibi, who were joining us in Israel, Meir's wife Rivka took us shopping.  In the evening, Yossi and his wife Rivka and Yakov and his wife, also named Rivka (the three Rivkas!), as well as several of Meir's and Yakov's children, joined us for a family dinner.  The food was, of course, excellent, but I think the highlight of the evening for my daughters was seeing a wild hedgehog in the garden.  

       The next day we rented a nine-seater van as and headed down to Eilat.  Our group consisted of Meir and Rivka, Yossi and Rivka, Eva and Tibi and me and my daughters.  Meir was the driver and Yossi the tour guide.  Along the way we stopped at Sde Boker to see the National Park with the graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion.  The practically tame ibex were an added attraction.  Our next stop was the Machtesh Ramon, a large "crater" in the middle of the Negev desert.  We did a little bit of hiking there and then continued over to the Arava valley, along the border with Jordan, where we made two stops, first at a very unique roadside tiki hut restaurant featuring an eclectic mix of styles, a small zoo, pinball machines and whimsical sculptures.  Alongside the restaurant a very bored looking soldier sat atop a lookout scanning the Jordanian horizon.  Our last stop prior to reaching Eilat was at Kibbutz Yotvata, which is known for its dairy.  We reached Eilat in the evening and the girls took a night-time dip in the Red Sea, which was exhilarating for them after a long day of traveling and getting in and out of the van. 

       Our second day in Eilat the girls went back to the Red Sea in the morning while the adults went to the mall for the air-conditioning.  It was hot, over 105 degrees!  Later, we drove to the border crossing to look around and then had lunch at a local Beit Chayal, or Soldier's House, where soldiers can go for R & R when on leave.  We got there just before they were closing the kitchen, but they stayed open to serve us a typical Army meal of schnitzel and chips (French fries).  We spent most of the afternoon at the Underwater Observatory, where the girls went slightly crazy with the camera, taking over 100 pictures!  It's a very unique aquarium, built with an observation deck under the water, so you see fish in their natural habitat and not in a tank.

       Despite arriving home after 10:00 p.m. the night before, our group headed off to the Dead Sea and Masada the next day.  We went to Masada first, taking the cable car up to the top.  My girls were very impressed with the ruins and I think they could really feel the history there.  They would have stayed longer if if wasn't for the fact that the rest of the family was meeting us at the Dead Sea for a "grill al ha-esh" (an Israeli style BBQ) and we had packed the food.  But once at the Dead Sea Masada was quickly forgotten with the novelty of floating, and floating, and floating.  At the BBQ, as extravagant as only an Israeli grill can be, and which most of the rest of our Israeli family attended, it was remarked upon that the Israeli branch of the family didn't get together very often and that they should do this sort of thing more frequently.  I was pleased that our visit had prompted more than one kind of family reunion!

       The next day was Friday, and my daughters and I left for Jerusalem, where we were going to visit other relatives, not related to Meir, Yossi, Yakov, or Eva.  Eva and Tibi stayed on at Meir's for another week of touring and visiting.  My girls and I were in Jerusalem for 5 days, then went back to Hungary for 3 days.  We stayed in Eva's home, which gave us some much needed "down-time", since they were still in Israel.  The girls went out with Judit and her friends in the evening, while I hung out with Melinda (Eva's daughter) and her children.

                    and Mate

Eva's daughter Melinda and her son Máté

      Our next to last day in Hungary Melinda's husband  András took us to the village of Szent Endre north of Budapest.  Tomi and his wife Suzy and one of their sons met us there.  It's quaint and touristy at the same time and it was fun to walk through the narrow cobblestone streets, climb up the steps to the church at the top of the hill where there is a great panoramic view of the town and the Danube, then sit in a cafe and chat and enjoy ice cream.  A very relaxing day.

      The final day of our trip was spent ticking off the last of our "must-see and must-do" list.  Melinda and I made chocolate chip cookies.  Alisa took a glider ride.  The four of us went out for dinner while András babysat the kids and Sara got to go salsa-dancing.  Not what you would call a typical tourist's day!!

      We left Hungary and Israel having made new friends, and having gained insight about the cultures in which our relatives live, and some of the hardships they face.  On several occasions, rockets fired from Gaza have landed only a block or two away from Meir's apartment in Beersheva.  Though Jewish life is flourishing in Budapest, the recent election of a more right-wing government in Hungary means anti-Semitism is more above ground than previously, and people are nervous about the future.  I'm grateful that my genealogical research led me to these wonderful, funny, intelligent, caring and generous people whom I am proud to call my family.  I look forward to maintaining contact with them and God-willing to additional visits in the future.

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© 2012  Judy Petersen

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