Hungarian teachers savor the silence at Rockville day school

Cecilia Horvath, left, and Bianka Danko were among the four teachers from the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School in Budapest who taught last week at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. Photo by Dan Schere

Ask teacher Cecilia Horvath how her Jewish school in Budapest differs from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, where she spent four days last week, and she’ll say straight out: The American kids are nicer.

“It is absolutely a good impression that students here are more polite,” she said, during her visit to the CESJDS upper school.

“They really respect the teachers and us foreign people.”

Horvath was one of four teachers from the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School to visit the day school in Rockville. Their visit was part of the Morim cultural exchange project, an initiative from the Rockville nonprofit SOS International, which connects American and European Jews.

CESJDS is one of four American Jewish day schools involved in the project. Another is Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville. Last November, educators from the CESJDS visited Budapest with SOS International.

In their visit to Rockville, Horvath, who teaches history, and her colleagues tried out their lesson plans in an American classroom.

Horvath gave a lecture on Holocaust rescuer Raoul Wallenberg and another on Hungarians who immigrated to the United States.

She also taught a lesson for the school’s Model United Nations on how to write a resolution and use proper diplomatic greetings.

She said her Rockville students were more receptive than the ones back in Budapest.

“It’s very important that people say, ‘In my opinion.’ They must listen to the other people’s opinions. But it’s very, very hard to keep everything in order in a Lauder classroom,” she said.

Lauder Hebrew teacher Bianka Danko had a similar observation.

“They are polite [in Hungary], but not in this way. If they would like to say things, they would not think about others. Here they are waiting for each other’s answer. They are silent,” she said.

Danko said classes are structured differently in Hungary, where students are expected to absorb a Hebrew lesson in a 40-minute class. She noticed that at the Rockville school, class periods are longer and activities are more varied.

Art teacher Benjamin Tellie, who worked with Lauder teacher Ildiko Szarbas during the week, said his students enjoyed an art project in which they fashioned a golem, the creature from Jewish legend, using paprika and turmeric.

“I feel like they were energized by the new style,” he said. “They’re not used to working with spices, and it’s also just the presence of Ildie [Szarbas] bringing something different to the table.”

SOS International CEO Alan Reinitz said a trip is planned for the American teachers and their students to visit their Hungarian counterparts.

Danko, the Hebrew teacher, observed that American students are primed to run for the door at the sound of the bell.

“The children are very calm for 70 or 60 minutes, but the moment you hear that [bell], they wake up and they’re standing up and they go away,” she said. “I wanted to tell them the end of my sentence, but they were out the door.”

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