Cooperation under the Palm Trees was the title of an online conference held on 9 February, organized jointly by the Diaspora Project Network of the University of Pécs and Kerko Media Ltd. At the conference, Hungarian organizations from Florida introduced themselves and their different forms of cooperation. The event was moderated by Deputy Rector Dr Ákos Jarjabka and Director of Kerko Media Ltd János Keresnyei, while the invited panellists represented various Florida-based Hungarian organizations. The nearly 70 participants from eight countries all over the world were able to gain insight into the exemplary cooperation of Hungarians in Florida. 

Poster of the conference Cooperation under the Palm Trees

Honorary Consul Piros Pazurek opened the event by providing a summary of the life of the Hungarian community in America, in particular in Florida. Approximately 1.4 million people of Hungarian descent live in America, of which 2–300 thousand speak Hungarian, and more than 200 Hungarian organizations (churches, scout groups, weekend schools, Hungarian houses, a variety of clubs, and new types of so-called hybrid solutions) are active across the country. The State of Florida has a population of approximately 23 million people, and receives 800–1,000 new residents every day and 130 million visitors each year (of which 80 million come to Orlando). Florida is the third most populous and fourth wealthiest, that is, economically strongest state in America. By numbers, the approximately 110 thousand Hungarians living in Florida rival the Hungarian communities of New York and Cleveland, including 12–14 active Hungarian organizations and many Hungarian businesses.

Recent examples of close collaboration between local Hungarian organizations include the online charity concert titled Nyári Bernadett and Friends, by means of which they raised 50 thousand dollars for two Hungarian girls orphaned in a family tragedy; the Hurricane Fund, which helped dozens of Hungarian families in the wake of frequent hurricanes (with the active support of churches, including Calvinist bishop Dr Csaba Krasznai of Cleveland, Ohio); the monthly online meetings set up during and after the pandemic; the sports scholarship created from donations collected during Katinka Hosszú’s recent visit to Florida (she is one of the best Hungarian swimmers of all time); the traditional wheat mixing ceremony on 20 August; the annual Sarasota Hungarian Festival as one of the most important cultural and gastronomic diaspora gatherings, with 2,000 visitors per year; the HungarianHub, which gathers all information concerning Hungarians in America; and the Hungarian Summit, a professional conference that will be held for the fourth time this year, again in Daytona Beach. Before handing over the floor to the individual organizations, Piros mentioned Edit Dukai, a key member of the Diaspora Project Network, who came to Florida as a Kőrösi Csoma Sándor Programme (KCSP) fellow, and became the office manager of the HungarianHub and also an honorary citizen of the Middle-Florida Community.

ReklámTas J Nadas, Esq

Children of the Mákvirágok Hungarian Preschool and Elementary School in Orlando

Viktória Butala, the head of the Mákvirágok Hungarian Preschool and Elementary School in Orlando founded in 2014, pointed out that their school has classes every week, they work from textbooks published in Hungary, and several of their students have been able to join or return to the Hungarian education system without any problems. Their central location allows them to build relationships with all corners of Florida; two examples of which were the Talpra Hungarian Sport Cup and the Mákszemek group in Daytona Beach, run by pastor Emese Asztalos, with whom they complement each other very well, often attending each other’s events and organizing joint events.

Zsuzsanna Cajkás is the co-founder of the South Florida Hungarian Kids Club, a weekend school established in 2008, which now has 35–40 children—after initially starting with 5–6 students—and have currently six volunteer teachers. They also have an active women’s choir. Cajkás highlighted the very strong support of parents, who also donate money, which enabled the club to support a homeless elderly Hungarian lady, cover the school fees of two students, and support a children’s home in Transylvania and the Parents’ House Hungary. As Cajkás said, not having their own building makes it particularly important for them to build relationships and work together with other organizations during various national and family celebrations.

Working together is also a way of thinking together, exchanging ideas, but most importantly: a pledge to survive in the long run.

Finally, she mentioned the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce of Florida, which she established to build business relations and bridge the gap between the business and civil sectors.

South Florida Hungarian Kids Club

Zita Horváth introduced the MHFolk Hungarian Heritage Home, named after Margit Horváth (Aunt Margo), who passed away just a year ago, and which is dedicated to take care of her very rich folk costume collection, collected over 40 years. Horváth explained that their main objective is not only to save and preserve authentic folk costumes but also to help other organizations with similar objectives. She learned that after the move of the local Reformed congregation and the Hungarian Club (because the American congregation building, which had been their home, had to be sold), Mrs Horváth’s collection, the library’s many books, and the headstone and plaque commemorating the 1956 revolution also found a new home. She expressed her gratitude to the Cleveland Regös Group for taking on the responsibility of transporting and storing a container of folk costumes, which also set the stage for a future collaboration. Finally, she told us that the travelling museum was a great success at the Sarasota Hungarian Festival, and the recent community Christmas was organized together with the Mákszemek children’s club in Daytona Beach.

MHFolk at the Hungarian Festival in Sarasota

Rev Emese Asztalos was introduced as ‘not just a pastor, but a travelling pastor’. She talked about how she had come to Daytona Beach to lead Putnam Memorial Presbyterian Church, a Hungarian Community Church. She has been living in America for 20 years, previously a fellow in Atlanta, Georgia and was invited to Daytona Beach in 2015, but also serves 3–4–5 times a year in two other states (Georgia and South-Carolina). The Hungarian congregation was started with the support of the Presbyterian Diocese of Central Florida and the Putnam Bequest, and welcomes all Hungarians regardless of their denomination. They work closely with the Hungarian American Club during national commemorations and holidays and with the Mákvirágok of Orlando: for their members she also provides religious education. Asztalos sees the loss of the former location, the difficult period that followed, and the subsequent move to new premises as another opportunity for cooperation, and expressed her pleasure that the folk costumes, the huge amount of books, the headstone and the memorial plaque have all found their new homes—unfortunately, due to the the limited storage capacity of the new building, it was not possible to keep them together.

Hungarian Putman Memorial Presbyterian Church, a Hungarian Community Church

Rev Péter Pál Bodor, the Reformed pastor of the Hungarian Christian Church of Sarasota, said that he also used to serve in Miami once a month, following in his father’s footsteps. In addition to his secular job—a senior executive with a degree in mechanical engineering—he founded the congregation in 1993. He mentioned the visits of key public figures, former Hungarian President János Áder and well-known Franciscan priest Csaba Böjte, stressing the importance of ecumenism. He cited as examples of local cooperation the events held at the Petőfi and Kossuth Clubs in Miami, the wheat mixture ceremony of 20 August presented together with Rev Emese Asztalos, and the fundraising for schools in Szeklerland and Transcarpathia.

Gyula Kovács, representing the American Hungarian Club of Palm Beaches, founded in Lake Worth Beach in 1963, said that last year they had successfully completed a generational change of leadership; as a result, more and more young people are visiting their clubhouse, which was previously viewed as a seniors’ club. They do not have a weekend school (they refer applicants to the South Florida Hungarian Kids Club), but they have already purchased toys and equipment that children and young people can use to play with. They even have a permanent musician who comes from Sarasota. Rev Lóránd Csiki-Mákszem, who is based in Miami, serves at their club on a monthly basis. Among their many programs (Harvest Ball, cultural programs, regular dances etc), the most popular was the January goulash cookout with 110 participants, travelling to the event even from New Jersey and New York. Kovács has repeatedly stressed their desire to become more involved in the larger Hungarian community in Florida, therefore they have made their clubhouse available to any Hungarian organisation free of charge. Finally, he expressed his gratitude to Consul Dr Viktória Sass, based in Miami, who has helped them a lot.

Lóránd Csiki-Mákszem, pastor of the First Hungarian United Church of Christ in Miami, said that the congregation was founded in 1948 by a pastor who was on vacation there and was touched by the local Hungarians’ need for spiritual nourishment. He said it is one of the most complex congregations in South Florida, with its own church, a permanent pastor, weekly services, two fellowship halls (Kossuth Hall, a larger fellowship hall, and Petőfi Hall, mainly for youth purposes), and their own apartment available for rent. Their Sunday school has been suspended this year due to teacher shortages, but they also work with the previously mentioned Kids Club, the Lake Worth community, and Rev Peter Pál Bodor. He also referred to the collaborations previously mentioned, that is, the charity concert and the hurricane fund, and added their congregation’s Good Samaritan Mission Fund, by which they are able to support people in need. He also mentioned Consul Dr Viktória Sass, thanks to whom ‘collaborations have been revived’.

Mónika Farkas, the community leader of the Hungarian Christian Church in Safety Harbor, said that her church was built in 1960 by enthusiastic Hungarians who took out a large loan and then managed to pay it back through collecting donations. Apparently touched, she spoke of how she had come to lead the community: after listening to a performance by Tvrtko Vujity, she invited him to visit them, and he came along with the violin virtuoso Bernadett Nyári. Inspired by the success of that event, Farkas decided to shake up the community, and has been enthusiastically organizing events ever since. They also have a singing group for small children, regular lunches attended by 70⁠100 people, and Rev Dr Csaba Osváth conducts services every Sunday. Farkas quoted from the 50th anniversary commemorative book, explaining the founders’ goal, that is,

to always have a place where people could speak Hungarian, a goal she wants to pursue relentlessly.

Daytona Beach Hungarian American Club

Zsuzsanna Kovácsoutgoing president of the Daytona Beach Hungarian American Club, explained that her organization, founded in 1961, is a non-political and non-religious community that brings local Hungarian families together and keeps Hungarian culture alive by organizing monthly gatherings, outings, Hungarian holiday celebrations, and by serving Hungarian home-cooked meals. Their current location is a Presbyterian church, as they cannot afford to own or maintain a separate building. She emphasized how cohesion had helped them through economic and social high and low points.

Finally, Piros Pazurek took the floor again and, in place of the absent representatives of the Diaspora Camp (Noémi Szilágyi) organized by the Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris (KMCSSZ in Hungarian) and of the Hungarian Festival in Sarasota (Erika Klatyik, Zsolt and Tünde Szekély, Péter Rippel), emphasized that these events are also colourful elements of Hungarian life in Florida. She stressed that the festival, which attracted thousands of people and was held for the 17th time last year, is a great experience for all visitors. The organizers have put it together with their own efforts, by raising funds from civic organisations and businesses (ie it is not funded by the state or other governmental organizations), with great enthusiasm and a lot of volunteer work, similarly to the HungarianHub and the Hungarian Summit, to which they are looking forward to, welcoming all interested individuals or businesses on May 23⁠24.

The poster of the Hungarian Festival in Sarasota

Although I have been living in America for more than a year and a half, and have written numerous articles and even a book about Hungarians in America, I was not familiar with Hungarians in Florida before the conference, have only met a few of their representatives in passing, and have only recently started producing content for HungarianHub. However, this conference re-confirmed my previous take-away: the future of Hungarians in the diaspora depends on the cooperation of enthusiastic volunteers and committed church people, and the civic and church organizations they lead or operate.



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