E-mail from London

In her new column Olga Kurz writes about the conference of the World Union of Jewish Students in Jerusalem and her dissertation about Jewish life in Hungary. The Austrian, Jewish Olga, born in Hungary, living in London, is very international.

Just a few days after I flew home to Vienna from London, I decided to go to the WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) conference in Israël, representing the Austrian delegation. You can imagine what my parents and especially my grandmother thought when I told them I was going. They were less than amused, watching on television what was going on in the holy land, where I was going to spend a whole week. I must tell you, I had scared my granny two days before that I was planning to go skiing. So, in her eyes I was only switching the potentially leg-breaking slopes to a war zone, which is not very calming, I know. However, I wasn?t going on a beach holiday, but to Israël, which is more for me than a holiday destination. To be honest, I have never felt as much ?at home? in Israël as this time, I can?t really explain why, but I felt the Israëli temper wasn?t clashing as much with mine as it used to. Also, I was travelling much more independently than before when I was protected by my family or counsellors. Although I was weary of the dangers, I wasn?t walking around shivering that something might happen. I felt reasonably safe, but tried not to go to risky places, at least not alone. There was one place, though; I felt I had to go to, as I always do, when I?m in Jerusalem. That is the Kotel, the Western Wall. I went there in the evening with some friends and the place was quite empty, but peaceful and beautiful as ever with its golden shine.The rest of the time I spent at the conference near the old city in Shoresh. Discussing the future of Jewish Students with 170 student leaders from all over the world was, to be honest, quite exhausting, but very educating and a lot of fun. We had a good balance between student union discussions, seminars and partying, which is, you must admit, an important part of student life. I am very happy to see that as a result of that conference the communication between at least European students is working much better than it used to and I am confident that the unions will manage to set up some good programmes for the students.In a way it is quite sad, but I didn?t manage to spend a lot of time in Vienna with my family and friends. After I got back from Israël I went to Hungary for a few weeks to do research for my dissertation, which I have to write for university, as it is my final year. My project is about the film ?Sunshine? by Istvan Szabo, which shows the history of the 20th century through the lives of four generations of a Jewish family in Hungary. It is about how they deal with the different regimes of their times, how they are trying to assimilate to their home countries. If you can, go and see it, it is very touching, you will learn a lot from it and, even though it shows a Hungarian family, I am sure you will recognise connections to yourself or your family in some parts of it. In Budapest, I spoke to people to see their reactions to it and if there is anything else you would like to say about it, please let me know.Spending several weeks in Hungary gave me the chance to learn a bit more about the Jewish life there, which, although hidden for many of the past decades, is rising again. The community is bigger than in Vienna, with kosher shops, restaurants, youth movements, schools as well as different synagogues. Chabbad even offers free Friday night meals, which I went to and enjoyed very much. I think it is wonderful to have an open door and offer everyone the chance to experience Shabbat in such a nice and welcoming way.Now that I?m back in London I am busy as ever. I will study and work to earn some money for my last minute travelling. But before that I hope I will have time to get used to London again, spend more time with my