Two prominent Hungarian Jewish personalities, Rabbi Shlomo Köves and Ágnes Keleti, were among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Hungarian Order of Merit. The winners were announced on March 15, Hungary’s Independence Day.
The Hungarian Jewish community is the largest in East-Central Europe with an estimated 100,000 members. As leader of Chabad-affiliated EMIH (Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities), Rabbi Köves oversees nine Shuls across Hungary, with seventeen rabbis and Shluchim who serve the needs of the local community, as well as visitors to Budapest, Miskolc and Debrecen. EMIH operates a food distribution center for the needy, as well as a kosher slaughterhouse, kosher restaurants, publishing house, and more. The number of community institutions increases yearly.
“Shlomo Köves, the leading rabbi of the United Hungarian Jewish Community, is a religious leader who authentically represents Jewish identity and plays an outstanding role in the renewal of Jewish culture and life in Hungary”, official decision says.
A Holocaust survivor and Hungary’s most beloved living athletes, Ágnes Keleti is a five-time Olympic gold-medalist who won a total of ten medals in gymnastics for Hungary at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, and again at the1956 Olympics in Melbourne. At age 35, she became the oldest female gymnast to win an Olympic title.
Born Agnes Klein in 1921, Keleti’s career was interrupted by the Holocaust. She was forced off her gymnastics team in 1941 because she was Jewish. She hid in the Hungarian countryside and survived the Holocaust by assuming a false identity and working as a maid. Both her mother and her sister survived the war with the help of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg; her father and several relatives perished at Auschwitz along with more than half a million Hungarian Jews killed in Nazi death camps, and by Hungarian Nazi collaborators.
The Order of Merit is the second highest State Order in Hungary after the Order of St. Stephen. Founded in 1991, the Order revives the original tradition of the Kingdom of Hungary which existed from 1922 until 1946.