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Back To Budapest

Back To Budapest

On a family vacation in Israel last year, the Silbermans of Bayside started discussing the forthcoming bat mitzvahs of twins Naomi and Giselle.

They didn’t want a ceremony, a typical gaudy American-style ceremony, back in Queens. They ruled out Israel. Too traditional.

Caryn Silberman, the girls’ mother, suggested Budapest — and the decision may have marked a first in post-Communist Budapest. Caryn, an attorney, and her husband George, a retired social worker, have roots in Hungary. The Silbermans had visited Budapest a few years earlier.

Everyone liked Mrs. Silberman’s suggestion.

So on the last Thursday in December, a few days after the twins’ 12th birthday, during their vacation from Solomon Schechter School of Queens, after the end of the official Torah reading in the Hosok Templum, a small sanctuary across a courtyard from the towering Dohany Street synagogue, Naomi and Giselle stood on the bima. The sisters, who had learned Hebrew in Queens from a private tutor and studied the language at Temple Israel in Great Neck, read the week’s Torah portion from photocopied pages. They delivered brief speeches in Hebrew. They were blessed by Rabbi David Sandor Polnauer.

Although some boys from overseas have marked their bar mitzvahs in Budapest, no foreign girls, as far as is known, had held a bat mitzvah there since the Jewish community underwent a revival following the downfall of Communism, Mr. Silberman says. “According to the rabbi, it was unprecedented,” he says. There was no big party, no expectation of expensive gifts. “The rabbi was overwhelmed,” he adds.

Mr. Silberman, who taught himself Hungarian 30 years ago and has visited Hungary often, arranged the bat mitzvah through e-mail, coordinating the place, the date and other details.

“I was very happy and excited, because this is where our family is from,” he says.

The Hosok Templum, a deportation site for Budapest Jews during the Holocaust, had historical significance as a bat mitzvah location, say the girls, who have studied the Shoah in school.

“It’s a connection with the past,” Mrs. Silberman says. “It’s also a slap in the face of anti-Semites — the Jews are not wiped out.”

A family friend, Regina Brenner, from Allentown, Pa., joined the family for their week in Budapest.

Mr. Silberman’s parents died several years ago. Mrs. Silberman’s father, Julius Bernstein, died last year; her mother, Lillian Bernstein, who lives in Forest Hills, couldn’t make the trip. “She was there in spirit,” Mrs. Silberman says.

When the girls are older and have children, might they have the coming-of-age ceremonies in Budapest too?Probably not, they say. They’d prefer Israel. “Because that’s the Holy Land,” Giselle says.

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