“Sim Shalom” is the first line of the most ancient blessing in the main daily prayer, the Amidah. It means: Give Us Peace!
The roots of our community go back to the late 1980’s; its formation is connected to the social changes in Hungary. All that the founders of the community knew earlier about their Jewishness was that they came from Jewish families. The family atmosphere in which the majority of our founders grew up was the deep silence of wanting to forget which followed the Shoah. A meeting with young British Reform Jews gave birth to our first communal holiday in the spring of 1987. As we sat around the holiday table, Hungarian and British Jews together, we experienced the familial atmosphere of the Seder meal and the universality of the holiday, both at the same time. For many of us, this first Seder evoked the feeling of the great lost family. During the following years, it gradually became a necessity for us to celebrate the holidays together on a regular basis, and to feel the joy and intimacy of being together in a communal gathering.
For this handful of friends, the Leo Baeck College in London organized an intensive month-long course in Progressive Judaism in 1989. Since October 1992, our group has been functioning as an officially registered non-profit association. One of our founding members, Katalin Kelemen later undertook rabbinical studies at Leo Baeck College, and she was ordained as a rabbi in 1998. She has been the rabbi of our community since then.
For more about our History, browse our History section!
What is Progressive Judaism?
Our community follows the tenets and practices of the Progressive (or Reform) movement of Judaism, which has the largest number of members worldwide. Progressive Judaism owes its popularity to the fact that it sees our Jewish heritage as a living, continuously developing tradition, which has something important to say to the people of today.
Rabbinical Judaism grew out of the collection of laws and customs known as halakha. Progressive Jews feel that some of these everyday rules, products of a by-gone historical era, no longer have relevance for life in present day society. The Progressive branch of Judaism encourages its adherents to become familiar with the halakhic tradition, and holds that in keeping the laws everybody has to follow his or her own inner path. We find it natural to grant women equal rights with men in all aspects of religious life.
We believe that dialogue with other religions is important. We regard Israel to be the birthplace and natural homeland of the Jewish people. For more about Reform/Progressive Religious Zionism: browse the website of ARZENU, which is the international organization dedicated to this cause, including involvement in the WZO. ARZENU Hungary has been started also in 2009.
Sim Shalom is a member of the World Union of Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), which has over one and a half million members throughout the world.
The activities of our community are based on the traditional three-fold function of the synagogue; worship, study, community:
Beit ha t’filah: the House of Worship
In our synagogue, following the liturgical practice that evolved over the centuries, we hold two Shabbat services. On Friday evenings, we celebrate the coming of Shabbat by lighting candles, with kiddush (the ritual of sanctifying the Sabbath) and with the Kabbalat Shabbat service, followed by a communal dinner and the singing of the songs of the tradition. On every second Sabbaths of the month we come together to pray on Saturday morning. In the service we interpret the weekly portion from the Torah together after reading it from the scroll. The Reform characteristics of our community are expressed in a shortening of our services, partly to avoid repetitions, a preference for communal prayer and singing, and a flexible attitude towards prayer times, more suited to the rhythm of our daily life. We are using a prayer book (Siddur) for Hungarian Progressive Judaism developed by us, which contains prayers not only in Hebrew, but also in new Hungarian translations and transliterations of the Hebrew texts.
Beit ha midrash: the House of Learning
Our Torah study circle has been meeting continuously for eleven years. During the study of the text of the Bible (Tanach), our members share their individual thoughts, as they carefully scrutinize each verse for its deeper meanings . Our courses about the teachings of Judaism and their present-day interpretation are open both to our members and to anyone wishing to study about or to convert to Judaism. In Sim Shalom we also provide an opportunity to learn classical Hebrew, as well as to study the content of the prayers. Our holidays also serve as opportunities for us to deepen our knowledge, and by organizing special holiday programs for children, to get families with children involved. We are now running two parallel classes of Sunday school (known as Talmud-Torah in Hungary) for school aged children of the community.
Beit ha knesset: the House of the Community
A nice way of getting to know each other is the “family histories of our members” evenings, when we unearth old photographs, or letters commanding respect. We regularly invite outside lecturers to give us talks about the issues of Jewish culture and science that we find most intriguing. We are part of the international community of Jews; we regularly get visits from members of Reform communities from abroad. We also have American and British Reform Jews working in Hungary among our members.
Our teenagers (Youth Group) is active in multiple projects, including photo documentation of Hungarian Jewish history and architecture. We are trying to bring them closer to various other communities by sending them on summer camps and exchange trips.
We intend to develop Sim Shalom to be a strong religious community, thereby increasing the number of Hungarian Progressive Jews. While we want to increase our membership, one of the main goals is to maintain the familiar, intimate spirit of the community.
We believe that it is one of our tasks to make it possible for our members to experience the life-cycle events of an individual’s life through Jewish ritual (brit milah/baby blessing, B’nai Mitzvah, marriage, funeral/mourning).
We believe that the key to our survival is the education of our children. Thus, our goal, in the spirit of our ancient tradition, is the operation of a religious school for children of all years. In the framework of our B’nai mitzvah program – according to the progressive perspective – we provide the same training for boys and girls. We would like to make it a tradition to regularly have camps for our children.
We are facing challanges regarding getting our permanent location. Please read our appeal for renowating an old building into our own synagogue here!
We welcome everybody who would like to find out more about their Jewish roots, as well as those who would like to be part of a Jewish community and thereby to learn more about Progressive Judaism.