'In Hungary, Jewish Is a Derogatory Term'

Departures / Arrivals: An Israeli emigre in Hungary ponders the difference between the two countries; a Russian tourist talks 'Samurais vs. Zombies.'

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Nancy Rado at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Nancy Rado at Ben-Gurion Airport. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Nancy Rado, 31, lives in Budapest, arriving from there.

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

I’m here on a family visit: My sister and my grandfather live here, and I visit once or twice a year.

Are you originally Israeli?

I was born here and moved to Budapest with my parents when I was 16. They are originally Hungarian-Romanian. After 20 years in Israel, they didn’t feel it was the place for them, and when my father got a job offer in Hungary, they moved.

Did you want to go?

It was very hard. I didn’t speak the language and couldn’t really communicate, but now my Hungarian is better than my Hebrew. In Israel I was in the 11th grade, but in Budapest I had to learn Hungarian first, so I was placed in 10th grade. Then I had to repeat the year. It was hard to accept that. And the mentality was so different. I went to a Jewish school that was relatively liberal, but my understanding was that the minute I finished high school I’d return to Israel. My older sister stayed on in Be’er Sheva when we left. She was 20, had done her army service, was in a relationship and had a choice. So for three years in Budapest, all I planned was how to join her.

What happened while you were making plans?

I met my future husband in high school. His father is Jewish and he’s two years younger than me. I was 19 when I finished the matriculation exams and had to decide what to do: come back here and do army service or stay with my future husband. Then he went backpacking in Europe and I came to Israel for a visit, and since my return to Budapest we’ve been living together happily. I was 23 when I got married; the truth is that we married because of the army thing. They gave me a hard time here. I couldn’t visit without serving in the army, and didn’t see any point to returning just for that. I wanted to continue my studies and live my life. I didn’t want to go through such a huge change again. We had a civil marriage. It was a technical thing. We’ve been together almost 12 years.

So you’re happy you moved to Hungary?

That’s a question that’s still hard for me and my parents to answer. On the one hand, I didn’t have to do army service, I learned another language, I have a European passport and can find a job anywhere. On the other hand, my family fell apart. I have another sister, in Hungary, but the older one in Israel doesn’t really speak Hungarian or feel close to Hungarian culture. The situation is painful, both for my sisters and my parents. And there’s something else: Hungary is Eastern Europe, post-communism. You see it in the mentality of the people – they’re not so open, not so smart. Budapest is basically a great place to live, but I can’t imagine myself in other cities. It’s like if I were in Israel, I would live only in Tel Aviv.

What about Be’er Sheva?

I grew up there, but nothing in the world would lure me back. Even though I had a terrific childhood. But my grandparents, who immigrated to Israel at the age of 81, weren’t willing to go with my parents to Hungary, even though they asked them to.

Why not?

They really hate Hungary, they have bitter memories. The Hungarians were and still are anti-Semitic. It’s not pleasant. I’ve lived there for 15 years, but it’s only in the past two years that I’ve started to feel it, and it’s starting to bother me. There’s a word in Hungarian, zsidiozm, that’s said about someone or something Jewish. For the Hungarians it’s a curse word. Like “nigger.” I’m a makeup artist at a club, and once a few girls who worked with me came and asked whether I would do them. A guy at the club said, “Probably their Jew-boss was too tightfisted to pay for their makeup” – using that derogatory word. I cringed. didn’t react at that moment, but afterward I thought that there were so many things I could have said. It’s possible that if I’d told him I myself was Jewish he would have been embarrassed, but there was no longer any point. I’m not sure it was really spoken as an insult ... but they don’t really know who or what a Jew is, it’s just something they hear.

Sergey Dvoretsky at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Sergey Dvoretsky, 31, lives in Moscow and flying there

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

Yes. I was here for three-and-a-half days, mostly in Tel Aviv, with one day in Jerusalem. We had a long weekend in Russia, and Israel isn’t far from us, only a four-hour flight.

How was the visit?

I hope to come back here at some point in time, because for the first two days it rained steadily, even though I’d been told that it’s very sunny here.

Why Israel – are you Jewish?

To the best of my knowledge, no. No one ever told me anything like that, even though my surname sounds a little Jewish.

And your English sounds American.

I grew up in a small city in Russia, but in 2009 I went to the United States to live and work for five years, in San Francisco. But it was too far from Europe. I think I missed people and my family. It takes so very long just to fly back home.

What did you do in the United States?

I worked as a software engineer in a company that does gaming for cellphones. I was involved in a few projects, such as “Samurais vs. Zombies.” That’s a game where you’re a samurai with a big sword who tries to kill as many zombies as you can.

Is it possible to win?

Theoretically you can, but there is wave after wave of zombies. To get another lease on life or a better weapon, you have to pay money.

Do you play on the cellphone?

When I worked in gaming, I didn’t have so many opportunities to play – I was always checking something that I was working on – and now I feel that I’ve had enough of it. I do sports instead: bicycling, skiing, also cross-country skiing. You skim across the snow with special shoes and skis and poles; it’s a bit like running while gliding. It’s a popular sport in Russia.

Were you happy to return to Russia?

At one point I wanted to stay on in the United States, but then I changed my mind. I liked the challenge of the move, of checking out new people and faces, but like every new thing, it slowly becomes routine. I’d thought that all the Western countries were like one another, but I discovered that the United States is nothing like Spain or Ireland, like Europe.

What’s the difference?

It’s the balance between life and work. They and we work eight hours a day, but in the United States the vacations are very short. I only had two weeks’ vacation a year, and if I missed work because of sickness, those days were deducted from the vacation time. In Russia we have almost a month of vacation.

So it was good to be home again.

It was odd, because when I got back to Russia I found that many things had changed. It’s a bit hard to describe it in words, it’s a change you can only feel, you can barely grab the tail of what’s changed. It happens when you remember some of the places, but they look familiar and foreign at the same time.

What are you programming now?

You know that programs are written in a protocol in a specific language, they are a type of text. And of course, the text could contain mistakes or bugs, or maybe it was written sloppily by someone who doesn’t care so much. So I am programming a tool that will analyze the text of programs and see what the mistakes are, find out what went wrong. When someone uses the program we are developing, he will know whether the program he’s checking has problems and what kind.

And then?

Then it might be better to correct it before it’s put to use or is released for sale. Our program is suitable for big companies or governments, for bodies that buy software and want to check whether everything is working.

Do programmers sometimes deliberately screw up a program that they’re writing?

It’s actually easier to find a mistake that was made without the intention to sabotage the program. Problems a programmer creates deliberately are harder to find, and then a human expert has to have a look. But that’s good – it means that we still need people.