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For the week ending 9 September 2017 / 18 Elul 5777

Yehuda Pinchas Zomershayn

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Age: 22
Budapest, Hungary

Yehuda Pinchas was born in Hungary just over the Serbian border. His birth was during the time of the Yugoslav Wars (1991-1999) when the country of Yugoslavia was violently split apart by ethnic and religious conflicts. When he was four years old his family moved to the city of Tompa in Southern Hungary. Yehuda Pinchas thought of himself and his family as Serbians, and he grew up in a Balkan-Serbian refugee community in Hungary. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was actually Jewish. In high school he questioned everything and was known as a troublemaker. He felt that he was different than his classmates at school, but didn’t know why. He was, however, an excellent student and entered the Eotvos Lorand (ELTE) University in Budapest, one of the most prestigious universities in Hungary. His major field was applied mathematics and he had taught himself Java programming. At 19, while still a student, he was hired by the global banking giant — Morgan Stanley — as a programmer/developer. The bank has a back-office operation in Budapest where it employs many mathematicians, which services the retail operations all over the world.

When he was 16 his maternal great-uncle revealed to him the family’s deepest secret — that they were actually Jews. He discovered that his grandmother was born in Hungary after World War II, but because of the virulent anti-Semitism at that time (which still exists even today) in Hungary they fled to northern Yugoslavia — an area with a large number of Serbs, who, by contrast, are quite friendly to Jews. His mother eventually married a non-Jew and never disclosed her Jewish background, even to her children. Upon discovering his heritage, Yehuda Pinchas decided to investigate it. He first looked into the Reform Jewish community in Budapest. They seemed quite cold and he didn’t see any difference in behavior or customs between them and Christian Hungarians. His next stop was the main shul of the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community in Budapest. Although he was dressed in shorts and sandals, the Jews there were quite welcoming. When he asked if he could come and pray with them, one of them suggested that he change his clothes to something more conservative and come back tomorrow for Shabbat. He came back the next evening, Friday, and spent that Shabbat with some Satmar families in the community. He loved it. He bought a prayer book and started coming to shul with regularity in the evenings after work. After davening Ma’ariv he would often stay for a shiurim given by a local rabbi, and was fascinated by everything and became convinced of the truth of the Torah. He later started attending another shiur in Yiddish on Shabbat afternoons. One of his new-found friends suggested that he really needed to learn gemara and halacha, and recommended a Litvische-style Kollel that was involved in outreach. It was headed by Rabbi Keleti, from Jerusalem, who came to Budapest monthly to give shiurim and direction to the students. Yehuda Pinchas learned there at night for three years. He spent almost every Shabbat and Yom Tov with the Satmar Chassidim.

After graduation Yehuda Pinchas decided to spend an extended time in Yeshiva. On the recommendation to his rabbis he came to Ohr Somayach in April of this year. He intends to stay for at least two to three years. Although he dresses like a Chassid and speaks Yiddish, which he picked up in Budapest, he has not decided on the type of Chassid he will eventually become. In the meantime he keeps up with computer programming and has a number of private clients. He learns in the Yeshiva with Rabbi Shlomo Zweig and is enjoying his time at Ohr Somayach immensely.

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