Author: Dr Markus Himmelbauer, Director of the Austrian Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation
When delegates from various initiatives engaged in Christian-Jewish cooperation along the Hungarian-Austrian border met for the first time on 30 October in Eisenstadt, it was not a formal international Conference. It was a friendly meeting between neighbours working in the same field but not knowing much about the initiatives of others even though only living a short distance away. They were activists of the churches and NGOs, members of the Jewish communities in Sopron and Szombathely, a Vice-mayor and coordinators of the regional adult education centers.
For a long time previously the Vienna based Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation had friends and partners in Western Hungary and the Austrian Federal State of Burgenland. This region shares a long and rich common (Jewish) history until it was divided after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Whereas Jewish life is today totally extinguished in the Austrian part ever since the National-Socialist period, despite deportations and mass-executions there are still small Jewish communities in the Hungarian cities. A synagogue (picture on the right) fulfilling all the ritual requirements still remains in the Austrian Jewish Museum of Eisenstadt. Recently it was used for Shabbat-prayer by the nearby Sopron Jewish Community, which does not have a synagogue today. (The existing synagogues from 14th and 19th century today have been transformed into museums.)
During the presentation of current projects, the participants discovered that it was easy to join or support each other’s activities. There are running tourism projects, development of places of encounter and dialogue, the restoration and care of historic synagogues and cemeteries, as well as cultural performances. In 2015 the Austrian Coordinating Committee will invite their neighbours to the Fourth Central-European Christian-Jewish Thora-Study in Koszeg - a course which is held as well in Hungarian as in German.