BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — He was a rising star of Hungary's far-right, dumped by his party after he admitted he was a Jew. Two years later, Csanad Szegedi has completed an astonishing transformation: He goes to synagogue, eats Kosher food and has adopted the Hebrew name Dovid.
As a leader in Hungary's Jobbik Party, Szegedi whipped up crowds by accusing Jews of "buying up the country" and mocking the "Jewishness" of Hungary's political class. Then came the revelation that upended his career: His maternal grandparents were Jews — which under Jewish law made him one, too. Szegedi acknowledged his roots after video surfaced of a suspected blackmailer confronting him with evidence of his Jewishness.
In the political wilderness, Szegedi has apparently had a spiritual awakening.
Last year, he sought out a young rabbi in the local Orthodox Jewish community. After a period of intense religious instruction, Szegedi was circumcised last June, a year to the day after he broke with Jobbik. Today he takes Jewish religion classes with his wife, who is also converting to Judaism.
"I am just as Hungarian as until now, but I have expanded my own identity with the Jewish identity," Szegedi, 31, told The Associated Press. "I have two tasks ahead of me — to teach and to learn. I want to be a bridge."
Szegedi was a founder of the Hungarian Guard, a now-banned militia whose black uniforms recalled the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party that briefly governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews. As a Jobbik member, he took one of the three seats the party won in 2009 European Parliament elections.