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Jewish musician Tomi Juhász: Demonstrating the importance of culture for inclusion and activism

February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. It is a unified effort among Jewish organizations to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities.

In Budapest, Hungary, blind Jewish musician Tomi Juhász is a role model in many ways, demonstrating that culture plays an important role in inclusion and activism. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, he and his band, Juhász Tomi – Vaklárma (or ‘Tomi Juhász – Blind Noise,’ a pun which plays on a Hungarian expression meaning ‘false alarm’), would perform live in clubs and events.

A guitarist, singer, and writer, Juhász has been performing in a klezmer group for several years. Juhász says his experiences growing up in the Jewish community – and the interpersonal exchanges of culture and religion – continue to affect his music-writing today, with a sound that mixes new-wave, alternative rock, and folk. The group sings about the problems of their generation, about love, finding one’s way, and acceptance – something which Juhász says he knows a lot about through his blindness. The themes of his novels have also centered on Jewish identity.

But perhaps most importantly, Juhász says a main goal of his music and the band’s public platform is to raise awareness of pressing social and political issues in the country. “These are the things that I am surrounded by,” he explains. They have advocated for environment and climate protection in Hungary, encouraged their followers to join them in community service activities, and raised money for projects that are helping people with disabilities. Juhász wants his listeners to understand the importance of facing the problems that are in front of them: “Learn from mistakes, and from history, to avoid repeating it.”

Photo © Tóth András