Blast from the Past: The "From Me 2 We" Conference in Budapest


Alan Grabinsky is a writer, currently engaged in the Cosmopolis project: a storytelling journey through cities of the world.

There are two ways of conceiving of Jews in Europe. First, the lachrymose tale: Jews used to live there; the whole culture was wiped out by social catastrophes like the Holocaust and is now increasingly threatened by growing anti-Semitism and the far right. Secondly, the new life story: “new” artists are emerging, “reclaiming” spaces of the cities that have been lost, a thriving community is reconstituting itself - a Jewish revival is at hand. 
“But, revival from what?!”

Those were the words of introduction of our Hungarian host, Tamas Büchler, organizer of the Me 2 We Conference, which I had the pleasure of attending thanks to the ROI Go Network Micro Grant. 
During three days, the ornamented buildings in this astoundingly beautiful city of Budapest became exploring grounds from which to uncover past, present and future layers of Jewish life. I went there with the goal of expanding my network of young Jewish professionals outside of New York and Israel. I wanted to learn what it meant to be Jewish in the Hungarian diaspora and to deepen my links to fellow ROIers, like Andrea Ausztrics. I  developed a strong friendship with Andy, and thanks to ROI we have exchanged deep and meaningful conversations that will surely influence my personal and professional life. 
For me, the most eye-opening experience was the dialogue started by Tamas during the first day and that extended to the second day's morning conference - from which I particularly enjoyed Seth Cohen's view on networks - and the last day's closing remarks. 
Back to the problem of the two narratives of Jews in Europe.  On a wider frame, this has to do with the temporal status of the Jews in Europe - an issue that became more important in talks with Israeli and American participants. Their story is that Jews moved from Europe to Israel, or they went to America, where they thrived.

Growing up with this narrative, most Israelis expressed their frustration at having little sensibility for the diaspora. It is not that they don’t care, but they don’t know that we exist. Even for me, as a Mexican Jew, it is hard to conceive of Budapest or Vienna as communities alive in the present, something evolving, and changing. Never mind Latin America - we are not even on the map.

The diaspora appears, to many, as a “blast from the past”: it is either under revival or constantly threatened. We Jews in less visible communities need to speak louder than that.