Chabad on Pepsi Island

by R. Wineberg - BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

August 15, 2002

An estimated 100,000 young men and women participate yearly in a giant pop music festival, known as “Pepsi Island.” Held on an otherwise deserted island near Budapest, this Hungarian version of the American Woodstock festival attracts youths from across Europe and internationally, making it the largest concert festival in Central Europe.

For five years now, Chabad of Hungary has operated a Jewish booth at the festival. Manned 24 hours a day by Chabad rabbis and yeshiva students, the booth—a spacious tent—is visited by thousands each day, including dignitaries such as the Prime Minister of Hungary and the Mayor of Budapest who regularly make appearances at the concerts.

Throughout the week, Chabad offers informal classes and lectures on Judaism, an “Ask the Rabbi” booth which draws hundreds of Jewish visitors who wait their turn in long lines, and a Shabbat schedule that includes candle lighting, lively services, and a spirited Havdallah ceremony complete with joyous singing and dancing.

“People approach the booth out of a general curiosity about Judaism,” says Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, director of Chabad activities in Hungary. “This is a place where they feel far more comfortable approaching the subject of religion than they would anywhere else.”

In many cases, students strike up relationships with the Chabad Rabbis that continue even after the concert. Rabbi Oberlander tells of a young man who approached him at the Chabad booth telling him that he had found out four years ago that his grandmother was Jewish. “Though it affected him deeply, he had no idea what to do with that information,” says Rabbi Oberlander. The Rabbi spoke with the young man during the festival and followed up with him later. “He is now well on his way to becoming a part of the Jewish community,” says Rabbi Oberlander.

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