A Jew, a Muslim, a Christian and a Buddhist sit down for dinner in Hungary…

The premise of fledgling director Viktor Szűcs’s film sounds like the beginning of a classic joke, but this 33 minute production is actually a fantastic short documentary on how Hungarians of different faiths share a meal with other. It is also a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the popular Hungarian reality television show called Fish on the cake (Hal a tortán). For our non-Hungarian readers: the word for fish (hal) somewhat rhymes with whipped cream (hab), which is the equivalent of “icing on the cake” in English, when referring to the best, finishing touch on a pastry.  Mr. Szűcs’s student film is entitled Priest on the Cake (Pap a tortán).

Viktor Szűcs's film "The priest on the cake" (Pap a tortán). The photo depicts Buddhist András Laár.

Viktor Szűcs’s film “The priest on the cake” (Pap a tortán). The photo depicts Buddhist András Laár.

It starts off with András Laár, a Buddhist, preparing a meal for his guests, which includes a leek soup and an Indian-inspired vegetarian main. The first to arrive is Rabbi Péter Simon Radvánszki of the Dohány Street Great Synagogue in Budapest. The rabbi is followed by Lutheran minister Gábor Orosz, who we discover right off the bat happens to be Lactose intolerant. (This piece of information must have been divulged early on, so as to add to the suspense…) Miklós Ahmed Kovács, an imam in Budapest and Vice President of the Hungarian Islamic Community, shows up soon thereafter.

“Let me know if I can help with anything, although I’m not really great in the kitchen,” noted the imam after the introductions. “Food doesn’t even look good in my hands, as I’m preparing it,” added the imam laconically.

The four men prepare the meal together in Mr. Laár’s kitchen. There is relatively little dialogue, yet there’s certainly the sense that this very simple, mundane act of preparing and sharing a meal is meant to bring people of different backgrounds and perspectives together.

“When we were making the dumplings, it had a really beautiful symbolic meaning,” observed Rev. Orosz.

Rabbi Radvánszki brought with him Kosher grape juice, often used in his community during Shabbat. Imam Kovács was curious as to whether Jews can only drink Kosher grape juice, or regular juice from the store as well.

“It’s better to go with Kosher, ” responded the rabbi.

“What if someone sells fake Kosher products and someone unwittingly buys this. Is the consumer responsible?”– inquired Rev. Orosz. The rabbi explained that the consumer is not, and added that it has happened before that a Jewish community ordered meat for months from a supplier providing Kosher products, only to find out later that they had been receiving pork all along.

The imam noted that Halal is similar to Kosher, “but it’s easier.” Remarking that the word “halal” means “permissible,” the key is to ensure that the animal in question is slaughtered according to certain practices.

The men proceeded to have a somewhat detailed description of how animals are slaughtered according to halal practices, while the Buddhist seemed heavily involved in cooking his vegetarian dinner.

As Mr. Laár served the soup, the men had a somewhat awkward discussion on how to address each other, in light of their various clerical affiliations. The host uttered the best line of the film, when he was asked how he wanted to be addressed:

“Just call me Uncle Buffoon…” in Hungarian: “pojáca bácsi.”

The next challenge was determining who would say the blessing before dinner. They decided to each say a silent prayer instead of choosing one or hearing all. The host determined that this was best, as he was never sure how others felt about prayers that were foreign to them.

As an indication of the world we live in, ISIS came up briefly, as did social conservatism in Muslim countries. The imam seemed to suggest that the situation was often not nearly as oppressive as it is made out.

Then it was the imam’s turn: he questioned the Christian morality of some of what is going on in Lutheran churches in northern Europe and Scandinavia. He was referring to the social liberalism of many of these communities.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can guess,” responded Rev. Orosz.

“Well, I don’t really want to say it in front of the camera,” said the imam, with an awkward smile, as he swallowed a dumpling.

“Yes, well if you’re talking about gay marriage and their blessing in our church then, yes, this is a fairly divisive topic within the Lutheran community,” remarked Rev. Orosz. He added that in the Protestant faith individual communities have some freedom when it comes to deciding where they will fall when it comes to controversial ethical or moral questions, noting that in Holland it is not at all unusual to have openly gay ministers.

“This, at the moment, seems almost impossible here in Eastern Europe,” added Rev. Orosz.

The Buddhist host chimed in: “God is so incredibly generous that he created everything.”

Rabbi Radvánszki, carefully choosing his words, observed that due to the culture of the region, homosexual clergy cannot come out of the closet and this situation then also propagates a specific culture and perspective.

Viktor Szűcs’s 33 minute film is fantastic in its simplicity. All of the faiths represented in the film value the concept of sharing a meal with each other. The fact that they managed to discuss difficult topics during their dinner made the get-together all the more valuable. Congratulations to Viktor Szűcs for this excellent film. All the best to him for a long and fruitful career!


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