(VIDEO AND PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE)
In an official ceremony that took place last week, in Budapest, an ancient shul in Hungary reopened its doors after nearly 400 years of disuse. Voices of tefilos in the sacred site, popularly known as the Buda Castle Synagogue, were last heard in the 17th century during the period of the Ottoman conquest of Budavar, presently a district in the old city of Budapest.
A festive ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in honor of the grand reopening of the shul, which was organized by Chabad in Hungary and scheduled for Rosh Hashanah. Attending the event were Hungarian President János Áder; Chief Rabbi of Holland and Representative of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs; Head of the EMIH – Hungarian Jewish Federation Rabbi Shlomo Kovesh; Av Beit Din of Orthodox Communities in Budapest Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, and Rabbi Asher Faith, the rabbi of the newly-restored synagogue, along with close to 1,000 local residents of the Jewish community.
The of a new spiritual center in the capital of Hungary raises hopes in the Jewish community that it will infuse a breath of fresh air in the Jewish life in the country and assist it with internal issues including the widespread desire to emigrate from Hungary, rife assimilation, and a shrinking emotional connection to Israel which is most manifest among the younger generation. A comprehensive study that was published several months ago, conducted in cooperation with the Szombat, the local Jewish newspaper, and Action and Protection Foundation – TEV, revealed that 75% of adults surveyed replied that they feel “a strong emotional connection to Israel,” whereas, among the younger generation, the numbers dropped significantly to an average of only 66%. In addition, the rate of mixed marriages rose and has reached a record of 62% (among those surveyed between the ages of 18-34). Interestingly from age 35-44, the figure dropped to nearly half.
Some 100,000 Jews live today in present-day Hungary, which makes it now the third largest Jewish community in Europe. 95% of Hungarian Jews live in Budapest, comprising approximately 5% of the city population and transforming it into one of the “Jewish capitals” in Europe.
In his speech at the event, Rabbi Shlomo Kovesh, expressed, “Today, when we have this opportunity to reopen a synagogue that has stood abandoned for nearly 350 years, we extend our heartfelt blessings to its new rabbi. Seeing this place 70 years after the Holocaust, seeing hundreds of people celebrating this special event in the Buda Castle with their heads held high, in the presence of the honorable President, I can hear the footsteps of Israel’s final redemption.”
The Buda Castle Synagogue was built in the mid-13th century along with the newly-constructed city and served the local Jewish community almost steadily until the beginning of the 15th century. The prayer house is located in close proximity to one of the main city gates, which was built in the Middle Ages and known as the Jewish Gate until this very day.
In 1360, Jews were first expelled from Buda, mostly due to hostility by King Louis I of Hungary, but even more, because he sought use of the Jewish homes in the region. Four years later, Jews were permitted to return in Buda, yet only to daven in their shul. Ultimately, the Jewish Quarter was destroyed by the order of King Sigismund around 1420 as a preliminary process to building the royal palace. Last week, almost 600 years later, Hungarian Jews flocked en masse to the ancient shul for the first time since the expulsion.
EMIH – Hungarian Jewish Federation, which is affiliated with Chabad, works tirelessly to promote Jewish life in the country, investing heavily into Jewish education and cultural activities. As an integral aspect of this goal, it operates educational institutions and is active in many charity drives, while operating dozens of social, cultural and educational programs throughout the country.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem/Photo Credit: Márton Merész)