“Keep quiet”–A documentary on Csanád Szegedi’s conversion from anti-Semite to observant Jew

A couple of weeks ago I received a DVD preview copy of the just released documentary “Keep Quiet,” directed by Joseph Martin and Sam Blair and distributed by Kino Lorber, Inc. The documentary deals with Csanád Szegedi, one of the most outspoken anti-Semites in the far-right Jobbik party, who at the pinnacle of his political career was confronted with the fact that he is actually Jewish. He became a practicing Orthodox Jew soon after his expulsion from Jobbik.

Of course, I’m familiar with the story of Csanád Szegedi because his drama played out in front of our eyes in 2012, but I still watched the movie with fascination. Perhaps because of his past in politics, Szegedi feels comfortable in front of the camera and is surprisingly articulate. His facility with language and the excellent direction make the film move smoothly.

After watching Szegedi up close and personal, instead of seeing him as a far-right firebrand giving political speeches, I feel more sympathy for him now than I did before. Of course, I share many of the concerns of those who are less than convinced about both Szegedi’s story and his transformation. One of the main reasons for people’s distrust is the extreme nature of his conversion. We know hundreds of cases of people who one day, almost by accident, discover that they are Jewish, yet they don’t join an ultra-Orthodox (Lubavitch/Chabad ) community, especially since Chabad fundamentalism is alien to Hungarian Jewry.

Csanád Szegedi in the uniform of Magyar Gárda “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians”

The documentary clarifies the reasons for Szegedi’s odd choice of Chabad orthodoxy. First, though certainly not a defining reason, he believes that his grandmother, despite her very vague recollections of her childhood, was brought up in an Orthodox home. I do hope he realizes that the Orthodox community in Miskolc, where the family is from, had little to do with Chabad. Second, the pragmatic reason: no other Jewish group was ready to take him in. And third, the psychological reason. Szegedi talks at length of his need to belong to a close-knit group, which he found in Jobbik, the movement he joined in 2003 at the age of 21 while a student at the Catholic Péter Pázmány University in Budapest. His father, who, by the way, is absent from the film altogether, while we meet his Jewish grandmother and mother, is a committed right-winger. At the dinner table Csanád soaked up all the right-wing nationalistic views of his father. It seems that in high school he again found himself among boys who shared his views. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that as soon as Jobbik was established as a youth movement, Szegedi joined the group.

Belonging to a community is extremely important to Szegedi. Without the warmth that such a close-knit community provides, he is lost. And once he was tossed out of Jobbik, he was utterly destroyed. Not just because his political career came to an abrupt end but because he was cut loose. He was suddenly outside of a circle where he felt at home. He even contemplated suicide.

Szegedi’s need for belonging and acceptance led him to the odd choice of the tiny ultra-Orthodox Chabad community in Hungary. Baruch Oberlander, a transplant from Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, was the only one who was ready to forgive his sins and show him the road to redemption. No other Jewish group wanted anything to do with him. It is enough to watch the angry crowd that confronted Oberlander in Montreal in 2013 after listening to the speech that Szegedi wrote. (Szegedi had been deported from Canada before he could deliver his speech in person.) His speech didn’t convince the crowd. They were furious and practically attacked the poor rabbi. Even Oberlander admits that his decision to accept Szegedi into the Chabad community was controversial.

Csanád Szegedi with Rabbi Barruch Oberlander

Perhaps what got less than adequate coverage in the film is Szegedi’s extreme Hungarian nationalism. His own given name “Csanád” is one of those Hungarian names that became fashionable in the last 30 years or so. Nationalistic Hungarian parents chose ancient Hungarian names for their children. There couldn’t have been too many Csanáds in the eighties when Szegedi was born. In 1972, for example, when a book was published on “suggested” and “acceptable” given names, only one Csanád was born in the whole country. Szegedi himself was so enamored with old Hungarian names that he published a book on the subject in 2002: The Complete Repository of Given Names of Hungarian Origin—More Than 8,400 Ancient Names of Hungarian Origin. In a long interview, given in 2015, he described himself as a “proud Hungarian Jew.” His second book’s title is I Believe in the Resurrection of Hungary, a line from a revisionist three-line Hungarian Creed: “I believe in God, I believe in one country: / I believe in the divine everlasting truth, / I believe in the resurrection of Hungary.”

Many people in Hungary simply don’t believe that Csanád was totally ignorant of his Jewish heritage. One reason for this disbelief is Szegedi’s own public comments after one of his colleagues confronted him in 2012. In addition, newspapers reported wildly divergent stories about his knowledge of the true facts. In the film he admits that he knew that his grandmother was adopted by a Jewish family called Klein but, as far as he knew, she herself was not Jewish. In the course of the film, we find out that the parents of Szegedi’s grandmother died in the Holocaust while she herself survived Auschwitz. After her return her only surviving uncle adopted her.

We don’t learn much about the family dynamics. Why the absence of the father? How much did the father know about his wife’s Jewishness? Why did the grandmother and the mother take so lightly Csanád’s loud and insistent anti-Semitism? Why didn’t they try to explain to the young man that anti-Semitism is unacceptable? One understands that, given what happened, many Jews wanted to hide their true identity. They just “kept quiet,” as Szegedi’s grandmother explained her silence. But they didn’t have to give away their secrets in order to teach Csanád the norms of decent human behavior.

So, many questions remain about Csanád Szegedi and his family, but I think I got to know him much better thanks to this fascinating documentary. In September 2016 the Jewish weekly Szombat reported that the World Zionist Organization and a Hungarian Chabad organization called Tett és Védelem Alapítvány (Action and Defense Foundation) had organized a conference on fighting anti-Semitism. Here apparently Szegedi announced that he had already filed all the necessary papers in preparation for his Aliyah to Israel. Yet, at the end of the film he admitted that he doesn’t know whether he will be committed to ultra-orthodoxy for the rest of his life.

Anne Applebaum, the American-Polish journalist who has written extensively about communism and about Central and Eastern Europe, gives excellent commentaries throughout the film. It is a thought-provoking production, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to preview it.

February 12, 2017
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DavidB
Guest

I don’t think Szegedi owes anyone but G-d and his conversion rabbi an explanation to the questions you pose, which are really quite personal. I, too, don’t know whether he was really unaware of his Jewish roots, yet I don’t think it is our place to speculate about this.

As for Chabad, thousands and thousands of Jews all over the world nowadays join Chabad communities because the communities to which their ancestors belonged simply don’t exist anymore. It’s the McDonaldization of Judaism and a development that could be considered problematic from a Jewish perspective for several reasons, but in countries with very small Jewish communities Chabad often proves to be the only organization still willing and able to sustain a community. For that reason, one cannot blame an individual for joining Chabad. And as someone who is very familiar with Chabad, calling the organization fundamentalist really seems like a stretch to me.

I wish Szegedi all the best on his life journey.

webber
Guest

Perhaps Eva means fundamentalist in terms of attempting to get back to the heart or base (fundamentum) of the faith.
Chabad as McDonaldization! Either you like McDonalds, or you don’t care for Chabad.

wrfree
Guest

Mr. Szegedi has a challenge ahead of him on his own personal road of belief. It is where is the ‘Saul’ next to his ‘Paul’?

Member

Chabad can it be?

Guest
Under the leadership of the charismatic late Schneerson rabbi, the Lubavitcher Chabad, headquartered in the States, but originally from Russia, has become an aggressively outgoing Jewish missionary sect or cult since the Holocaust. One of the strategic purposes of the world-wide operations of the Lubavitcher Chabad is to revive Jewish communal life where it had perished, and in particular to revive the fortunes of Jewish ultra-orthodoxy, among others by working assiduously to return to the fold as many “errant” non-orthodox or outright secular Jews as possible. Their missionary activities are in sharp contrast to the strictly closed and inward looking nature of other ultra-orthodox Hassidic sects, such as the Belz, Munkatch, Viznitz or Satmar. In their missionary work, they seem to operate much like fundamentalist Christian sects, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or cults like Scientology or the Moonies, albeit in a strictly Jewish context, of course. Compared to the various reform streams in Judaism, and to orthodox or modern orthodox Judaism, it goes without saying that the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Chabad is most definitely a fundamentalist sect (which is of course faithfully reflected in their dress code too). In Hungary, where they had no historical presence whatsoever before the regime… Read more »
Guest

Small correction: “(…) the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Congregations, which is the umbrella organization for the Hungarian reform (neolog), STATUS QUO ANTE and orthodox congregations.”

Guest

A thorough and very accurate review. Really excellent.

vomart huli
Guest

It is disgusting that this story has become such a big one. The fact is – and I like facts – that he wanted to bribe the person who said would divulge his roots. Period. That was the reason he was kicked out of Jobbik, and not because of his Jewishness.

Member

Converting from psychopathic wackiness to parochial wackiness does not strike me as either inspiring or interesting. Now if he had re-devoted the rest of his life to helping refugees or the Roma, that would have been worthy of a closer look.

webber
Guest

Like Baba.

wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘Now if he had re-devoted the rest of his life to helping refugees or the Roma, that would have been worthy of a closer look’

Looks to me Csanad may not have a csendes life after all that has transpired with him. He was a fellow who put gas in the Jobbik and Garda tank. He has a responsibility for that. It’s a fabric of society that continues to give cover for certain dismal attitudes in the treacherous Magyar environment. It’s an understatement to say he has to live with a heavy burden. I wonder if he gets the import of it.

Member

Two connections between Trump and Putin

1.
Bannon, Dugin and the intellectual Ebola.
Oops, Julius Evola.

“Under the influence of René Guénon, a French metaphysicist and convert to Islam [!!], Evola in 1934 published his most influential work, “The Revolt Against the Modern World,” which cast materialism as an eroding influence on ancient values.

It viewed humanism, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution all as historical disasters”

“Evola’s ideal order […] was based on hierarchy, caste, monarchy, race, myth, religion and ritual.”

“Evola eventually broke with Mussolini and the Italian Fascists because he considered them overly tame and corrupted by compromise. Instead he preferred the Nazi SS officers, seeing in them something closer to a mythic ideal. They also shared his anti-Semitism.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/10/world/europe/bannon-vatican-julius-evola-fascism.html

Member

2.
Chabad.

Rabbi Oberlander’s wife is rabbi Lazar’s sister. Rabbi Lazar is Putin’s favorite rabbi.

“Lazar was Chabad’s chief envoy to Russia before staking claim to the title of chief rabbi in 2000. That’s when he quit the Russian Jewish Congress, an umbrella group, after the organization’s founder, Vladimir Gusinsky, and Russia’s other chief rabbi, Adolf Shayevich, criticized Russia’s war in Chechnya and its alleged human rights abuses — including the alleged targeting, by anti-corruption authorities, of political dissidents.”

“Challenging the government is not the Jewish way, and [Gusinsky] put the Jewish community in harm’s way,” said Lazar.

http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/309514/russian-chief-rabbi-berel-lazar-stands-by-vladimir-putin/

Compare Berel Lazar’s words with
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
This is from Matthew 22:21, so this idea did NOT come from the Hebrew Bible

“Ivanka Trump and Jured Kushner Pick Out Chabad’s Synagogue in DC”
http://jewishbusinessnews.com/2017/01/07/ivanka-trump-and-jured-kushner-pick-out-chabads-synagogue-in-dc/

Member

Weight of Chabad inside the Hungarian Jewry.

2014 tax year [data from 2015-09-01] vs
2015 tax year [data from 2016-09-01]

# of tax donors
MaZsiHiSz: 77.08% vs 70.54%
Chabad: 19.93% vs 27.03%
Orthodox: 2.98% vs 2.43%

amount of money donated by tax payers.
MaZsiHiSz: 78.35% vs 71.36%
Chabad: 18.27% vs 25.03%
Orthodox: 3.37% vs 3.61%

Member

While the Chabad Hasidic denomination originated in Lyubavichi (Russia, but in the 1920’s the village belonged to Belarus),

Hungary yielded its own Hasidic dynasties:

Sanz Klausenberg < Kolozsvár (now Cluj, Romania)
Satmar < Szatmárnémeti (now Satu Mare, Romania)
Spinka < Szaplonca (now Săpânța, Romania)

Stropkov < Sztropkó (now Stropkov, Slovakia)

Ungvar < Ungvár (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine)
Bergsass < Beregszász (now Berehove, Ukraine)
Munkacz < Munkács (now Mukacheve, Ukraine)

Puppa < Pápa
Dorog < Hajdúdorog
Tosh < Nyírtass
Kaliv < Nagykálló
Kerestir < Bodrogkeresztur
Ujhel < Sátoraljaújhely

Still, only a fraction of the Orthodox communities in Hungary were Hasidic before 1945, and of course, Chabad was not present in Hungary till August 1989.

e-1956
Guest

Long list – one conclusion.
All members must think hard if they want to follow the oppressive chiefs of these sects.
Individually, most ultra-orthodox Jews are super nice people. I am the witness. I know quite a few of them.
The same is true for my Catholic, Episcopal, Protestant and Muslim friends.

Member

1910:
Neolog (now MaZsiHiSz) : 43.1%
Orthodox: 51.9%
Status Quo: 5.0%

1920: (in the current territory of Hungary):
Neolog: 63.4%
Orthodox: 30.9%
Status Quo: 5.7%

In Hungary, Chabad officially took over the “Status Quo” historical name in 2004.

Member

Israel vs Orthodox groups.

The Satmar sect vehemently opposes the existence of Israel.

The anti-Hasidic “Lithuanians” and the Hasidic Ger, Belz, Klausenberg, etc are against secular Zionism, but participate in the Israeli elections and sometimes in the government.

The Dati (or Kippa sruga or religious Zionists),
the Sefardi Haredim and Chabad support Israel.

Observer
Guest

Tappanch “..the intellectual Ebola…” Love that.

BTW I have no sympathy for organized religion and definite enmity towards extremists like some of the ultra-0rthodox sects.
To further Stevan’s words, one extreme authoritarian faith is just as appalling as the other. All are enemies of reason.

Guest

Great article Éva.
I am personally close to people who were involved in the making of the film, which was shown in New York last year where Csanád and a Hungarian contingent were flown and given the VIP treatment, with his film airing in a prestigious festival.

While many of those involved in the film and in the New York excursion were successfully bamboozled by his pretence of having a new-found “faith”, most of us know that the degree of his extreme passion for a fanatical version of Judaism is in direct proportion to the degree of his embarrassment and humiliation within Jobbik, and his “outing” to the wider world.

What bettter way to camouflage embarrassment, than to go on the offensive, which he has done by embracing an agressive extreme form of Judaism.

And thank you other commentators for exposing the connection between Putin and this distortion of Judaism, which has nothing to do with genuine faith and a spirit of love, and is instead just another form of fanatacism.

Member

“distortion of Judaism” – I disagree, but I am not an expert.

Although most Jews regarded the Chabad’s 1994 declaration of the late rabbi Schneerson as the Messiah a blasphemy, in other aspects Chabad follows the good Pharisean tradition of “fraternité”.

While Satmar is ultra Orthodox, I would call Chabad modern, commercialized Orthodox.

Socialism, “égalité” is also deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition. Read the book of Deuteronomy.

Member

What about an aspect of “liberté” ?

always free will: Sadduceism, Atheism

sometimes free will, sometimes God’s will: Pharisaism > Modern Judaism, Catholicism

always God’s will, predestination: Essenism, Calvinism, Islam

az angol beteg
Guest

I had a very good friend with a Fideszes swabian father and a Jewish mother. She was an extremely disturbed person. Not a great parenting combination.

Member

What about Maria Schmidt’s children ? How do they cope ?

az angol beteg
Guest

I haven’t a clue, is that a relevant question?
The only point I wanted to make was that I wouldn’t wish that kind of upbringing on even my worst enemy (or Maria Schmidtz’s kids either for that matter).
If one parent thumps the table at breakfast to emphasis his claim that you are a good Hungarian catholic but you surreptitiously pay respects to a beloved grandparent by placing stones one on top of the other at the Kozma then it doesn’t help a child to develop into a well balanced adult.

zsuka
Guest

Szegedi’s story is a typical Hungarian story – seems to be a question of identity. I don’t consider Szegedi’s conversion as particularly interesting.
Or, as Susan Faludi wrote: “There is in the universe only one true divide, one real binary, life and death. Either you are living or you are not. Everything else is molten, malleable.“ (In the Darkroom)
So far to Mária Schmidt’s children or sons and daughters of Swabian-Jewish descendant.

Member

Paul Krugman’s tweets:

“The Trump administration is a first in US history: a leader and circle who fundamentally despise the rule of law. This is unstable

1/One dynamic cld be Hungary-style: steady intimidation and degradation of civil society, with ever-consolidating power for the new regime

2/ The other could be implosion: eroding legitimacy undermining power, possibly with the man himself clinging on but effectively emasculated

3/ So how’s it going? America is not yet lost ”

https://twitter.com/paulkrugman/status/830866792125964288

Istvan
Guest

I suspect very much that Krugman’s tweet was based on this article https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/a-historical-precedent-for-trumps-attack-on-judges/516144/ It is a little deeper than the tweet.

e-1956
Guest

Krugman and Friedman have lived in denial.
Trump is super hardworking.
The review of travelers from a “very oppressive, hostile” state like Iran is very justified.
Trump;s concepts are straight forward.
His one biggest error is to advocate social conservatism.

Observer
Guest

e-1956
“Trump is super hardworking…” If this is not a joke, where did you get this from? Never heard it before.

“Trump;s concepts are straight forward..”
You mean primitively populists, right?

e.g. “We’ll open these mines, folks ..” re coal mines in Tn.
I am monitoring with utmost interest how is a president going to perform this feat, short of banning foreign trade in the US.

petofi
Guest

One thing certainly has become clearer–the right to carry arms is significant. Long term, bureaucratic, anti-rule of law (like in Hungary) is much less likely.

Observer
Guest

All such characters place themselves above law (in the worst case they want to be the law). Orban spelled it out – go break the law, never mind (azt jó napot). This is where the road to dictatorship starts.

Member

Let us summarize.

Russia can exert influence on Trump’s inner circle through at least three different avenues:

1. Economic, financial, private (Trump himself & his Secretary of State Tillerson & National Security Advisor Flynn)
2. “Alt right” supremacist (Advisors Bannon & Gorka)
3. Chabad (Trump’s son-in-law)

Member

Russia wants to replay the Clinton vs Trump cyber game in France as Macron vs Le Pen :

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-election-cyber-idUSKBN15S192?il=0

Istvan
Guest
Lt General Flynn (ret) could be on his way out for lying about his discussions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington prior to Trump being sworn into office on December 29. Normally not telling the truth gets a Trump official a positive nod from the President. But in this case there appears to have been a CIA/FBI recording of the discussion of which a transcript is now floating around Congress security committees. The Logan Act, forbids any US citizen acting without official US authority from influencing “disputes or controversies” involving the US and a foreign government. Interestingly Flynn as a young officer served along with myself and thousands of others in October 1983 when US forces invaded Grenada, he was much my junior back then. Even from his earliest days he was prone to bend the truth according to scuttlebutt. In later years some officers began to call these distortions “Flynn facts.” Flynn like myself and others like General Powell became an officer in the Army without going to West Point via the college ROTC route. There was a tendency for ROTC commissioned officers to protect each other from the arrogance of the “Westies” inside the Army officer corps, so I… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: ‘Even from his earliest days he was prone to bend the truth according to scuttlebutt’

And he got to be a commanding officer at a top level who his pointed to lead soldiers in battle? All I can say is our POTUS gives me the heebie-jeebies when it comes to potential military operations

Istvan
Guest

Many with military backgrounds were unnerved when we learned of Lt Gen Flynn appointment. I am even more upset I guess that reports of the existence of top secret CIA transcripts of Flynn talking on the phone with the Russian ambassador are in the Washington post. These leaks are clearly intentional and are part of a collective effort to get rid of Flynn. Supposedly there is now within the National Security Council the creation of a “shadow council” that excludes Flynn. The theory goes that Steve Bannon is running that shadow council and that is even more frightening than Flynn!

petofi
Guest

You’ve left out one: some fantastical, new-fangald, use of algorithms.

petofi
Guest

correction: “new-fangeld”

Guest

New-fangled. :-)))

blinkyowl
Guest

Szegedi and Oberlander are soulmates for both have been propagating racial supremacy. Don’t we be misled by this parade of baal teshuvah (i.e. “one who returns from his evil ways”).

petofi
Guest

Having taught in a Chabad school, I can testify to their belief in racial supremacy.

petofi
Guest

First off, Szegedi’s conversion: smacks of Speer’s conversion once caught by the Allies. I don’t trust it.

Second, Chabad: my wife and I once owned an ocean-side unit in the Marco Polo on Sunny Isles, Miami. It was run by a Chabad-ian. In fact, there’s also a small schull in the basement of the hotel. Problem was, the management brutally manipulated the ‘owners’ with frequent charges and special assessments. We sold it as soon as we realized what the gig was. But I can say one thing: I never before understood what ‘anti-semitism’ was about but I certainly did thereafter. I even wrote Chabad in New York saying that the manager’s zizit and yarmulka rights should be revoked.

Guest

Look, the Chabad is a missionary cult, and its modus operandi is exactly the same as that of all other cults. Their guys are brainwashed and socialized into the cult, no different from Scientologists. The Chabad has its own Messiah in the late Rabbi Schneerson, the Scientologists their own one in the late L. Ron Hubbard. And as with Scientologists, anything and everything is all right, however unethical, as long as the practitioner follows the cult commandments. The difference between Chabad and other cults is that it embraces an ultra-orthodox from of Judaism, therefore it is favoured by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and this gives them a certain cashet in orthodox Jewish circles. In addition, they are active in supporting Jewish communities in trouble around the world, and this gives makes them favoured among Jewish nationalists. Of course those hapless Jewish communities in trouble have no idea what they are getting themselves into, once they get trapped in the claws of Chabad.

Observer
Guest

Guys,
This reinforces my enmity as noted above:
All authoritarian faiths are inexcusable, unacceptable. And all are enemies of reason.

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