Edited by Anna Popper

Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated annually on the fifth day of Iyar according to the Hebrew calendar. This day marks the anniversary of the formal establishment of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, following the expiration of the British Mandate. This event restored Jewish independence after two thousand years, making it a significant milestone in Jewish history. The day before this celebration, Israel observes Memorial Day, honouring those who gave their lives for the country’s independence and continued existence.

On the occasion of the 76th anniversary of Israel’s independence, H.E. Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, Ambassador of the State of Israel to Hungary and Ms. Ita Hadas-Handelsman hosted a grand reception followed by a concert at the Buda Entertainment and Gastro Center.

The event was attended by Hungarian government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives from economic, cultural and academic circles, Jewish organisations in Hungary, Israeli nationals and friends of the country. The celebration was graced by guests of honour: Mrs. May Golan, the Israeli Minister for Social Affairs and Women’s Equality, and János Bóka, the Hungarian Minister for European Union Affairs.

The official ceremony commenced with the national anthems of Israel and Hungary, performed by the renowned Hungarian violinist Zoltán Mága and his orchestra.

First, Mrs. May Golan, the Israeli Minister for Social Affairs and Women’s Equality addressed the audience:

“I stand here today as a Minister in the government of the State of Israel; the only Jewish state in the world – and as a Jewish woman! I would like to begin with the words of an incredible Jewish woman of Hungarian descent, who lost her life at the hands of the pro-German Hungarian government in the dark days 80 years ago, when the Germans – with their Hungarian collaborators – implemented the FINAL SOLUTION.

Hannah Szenes (1921-1944) came to Hungary as a British officer on a mission to save the Jews of Hungary. Hannah wrote these words to her friends in her last letter, moments before embarking on this mission in Hungary: ‘Dear friends! By sea, by land, by air, in war and in peace, we are all moving towards one goal. Each one of us must stand in our place – there is no difference between one role and another. I will think of you a lot, for this is what will give me strength.’

Hannah, i.e. Anikó, was the daughter of Béla Szenes, one of Hungary’s most prominent playwrights, whose grave is just a few kilometres from here, in the Kozma Street Cemetery. I do not possess her incredible expressive power, but I share her burning faith in her path. ‘Anikó, I stand here as a Minister responsible for improving the status of Israeli women, as a representative of the Jewish state in your homeland, Hungary, and I promise you – we will ensure that our country prospers and flourishes. We fight for the right and duty of our people to advance in science, spirit and security. We will continue to strengthen our ties with countries around the world in general, and with your homeland in particular, and your legacy of heroism, vision, and message will continue to resonate worldwide.’

The events of 7 October will henceforth be etched not only in the annals of Israeli history, but also in the history of enlightened nations. Who could have imagined that in 2024 Jews would be murdered, women raped, villages destroyed and babies torn apart like in a medieval pogrom? And all because they are Jewish? Who dreamed that the Nazis would once again celebrate unimpeded, merely under a different guise?

Jews were suddenly persecuted, hiding their children, concealing and silencing the cries of their babies – like in a scene from the cursed Holocaust! And yet here stands an audacious scoundrel comparing the State of Israel, a nation defending itself, to the most despicable terrorists! Have we learned nothing from history? Does anyone think they can once again attempt to erase us from the map? Well, I am here to tell you – that will not happen! Ever! And as Anikó Szenes prayed: ‘My God, my God, may it never end.’ The people of Israel live – despite the wrath of the accursed terrorists. It is you who will be erased.

Indeed, this has been a very challenging year for us, a year in which we discovered who our true friends are, the countries that stand by us unconditionally. I thank you, Honourable Minister, for the ongoing support of your country. Apart from political cooperation, I am happy to see the flourishing relations on various domains – such as tourism, academy, economy, sports & hi-tech. It is heart-warming to see such love and appreciation, and we are deeply grateful for it.

In the spirit of Hannah Szenes, I declare here that we will continue to fight for the security of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, continue to nurture Jewish heritage everywhere, and illuminate the light of enlightened and humane nations everywhere.

I conclude with the words of songwriter Micha Shitrit: ‘Come what may, I will still change, I will fulfil my dream. Bearers of bad news, Blows or another decree Will not change my essence. You, me, and the God – by my side, We will still win, Not because of the power, But because of the spirit. That blows in my back. Only because of the spirit, Within me, in my mind, in my soul, Only because of the spirit, Within me, in my blood, in my soul. What I have to say, I will still scream, Even on the moon, they will hear. Whoever says, “Not like this”, I will not forget him. The day will come, I will prove my I will prove my way is just.’

Thank you very much.”

It continued with the speech of János Bóka, Minister for EU Affairs of Hungary:

“Madame Minister, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to convey the greetings and best wishes of H.E. Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary on the occasion of the Independence Day of the State of Israel.

quote from a text that most of you probably know very well, but I cannot find more appropriate words: ‘The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.’

And these aspirations, this 2000-year-old hope became reality in 1948. This is indeed a joyous event and a reason to celebrate. But the existence and independence of the State of Israel was not achieved through declarations or UN resolutions. It had to be achieved through a war of self-defence and then defended again and again by peaceful and military means against open and clandestine enemies, including armies and terrorist organisations.

It is no coincidence that Independence Day is preceded by Remembrance Day in honour of those who fell in wars or became victims of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, this is all too relevant after the unprecedented attack on Israel on 7 October 2023.

There is a strong partnership, mutual respect and deep friendship between the State of Israel and Hungary that extend to all areas. I think we would all prefer that this partnership flourish in a peaceful and stable environment. But I can assure you that this partnership remains strong even and especially during hardships and difficulties, including when Israel exercises its right to self-defence.

Hungary is also committed to ensuring the safety of Jewish communities in Hungary and to fostering Jewish life. We implement a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitism masked as anti-Zionism or hostility towards Israel.

Unfortunately, in Europe this is not a thing of the past. We see that the moral compass of Europe, a continent so proud of its values and principles, is slowly but surely fading away. We see old and new forms of anti-Semitism on the rise, and some governments are indifferent, some are incapable, but some are actually riding the wave to score points with the electorate. I never thought that in some EU Member States, law enforcement would advise against openly wearing the kippah. I never thought that I would see mass protests in favour of terrorist organisations on the streets of Europe. I never imagined that international organisations or governments would mention leaders of terrorist organisations on the same page with democratically elected leaders of a sovereign country that exercises its right to self-defence.

We will not just sit back and watch. We will act both at home and in Europe. The Government adopted its new strategy to combat anti-Semitism a few days ago, which will be published shortly and reinforces our commitments and activities.

As Hungary assumes the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from 1 July this year, we make the promotion of Jewish life and the protection of European Jewish communities and heritage one of our priorities. We will work with Member States, EU institutions, Jewish Communities and their international and regional organisations. We will not make miracles, but we will make a difference.

And we do this for ourselves, for Europe. European culture, as we know it, is based on Judeo-Christian foundations. Jewish culture and Jewish communities are part of our culture and heritage. If Europe denies or abandons this heritage, it will no longer be Europe, but will become something else. This process is irreversible. If our European roots are cut off, they cannot be healed anymore. Israel’s Independence Day has never been more relevant and inspiring than here and now.

Let me quote again the Declaration on the Establishment of the State of Israel‘Pioneers and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community…’ This is not the past. And this is not a distant place. This is our task today, here in Europe.”

In his remarks as host of the momentous event, H.E. Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, Ambassador of the State of Israel to Hungary thanked the numerous guests in attendance and spoke about the significant anniversary linked to Theodor Herzl, a native of Hungary who played a major role in realizing the Jewish people’s age-old dream of establishing an independent State of Israel – a dream that became a reality 76 years ago. He also highlighted the excellent, multifaceted relations between the two countries, noting that the Jewish population in Hungary enjoys security and Jewish culture flourishes. The Ambassador expressed his gratitude to the Hungarian government for its continuous and unwavering support of Israel, his homeland.

Harmony and Tribute: Zoltán Mága’s Concert for Israel’s Independence Day

The official commemoration was followed by a spectacular concert in the festive spirit of Israel’s Independence Day, where the renowned Hungarian violinist Zoltán Mága and his orchestra performed and contributed to the celebratory atmosphere.

The virtuoso artist, accompanied by excellent musicians, performed a selection from his extensive repertoire, including famous Israeli and Jewish melodies, classical compositions by Hungarian composers such as Franz Liszt’s Second Rhapsody, and traditional Hungarian folk music. In addition, Zoltán Mága Junior, a gifted young violinist who follows in his father’s footsteps and is currently studying at Juilliard in New York, returned to Budapest to perform classical compositions at this grand event. The audience gave a standing ovation and received the concert performances with enthusiastic applause.

While enjoying the specialties of Israeli cuisine, the invitees had the opportunity to visit a photo exhibition showcasing significant moments from the historical past of the State of Israel.

Source: Embassy of the State of Israel in Budapest

Photos by the Israeli Embassy and Zoltán Mága Facebook pages, and DPA