By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– After 60 years, the oldest synagogue in Hungary’s capital Budapest will reopen September 5 during a ceremony attended by Israel’s government and other leaders, a chief rabbi has told BosNewsLife.
Slomó Köves, who leads the ultra- Orthodox ‘United Hungarian Jewish Congregation’, said the 190-year old Óbuda Synagogue was forced to close after World War II as most Jewish believers were killed in the Holocaust.
At least 600.000 Hungarian Jews died during the war.
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The communist regime, which came to power after the war, also discouraged religion and active believers often ended up in prison or lost their jobs. In 1972, during the Cold War, Hungary’s state-run television turned the synagogue into a film studio, Köves recalled.
“But after communism collapsed in 1989 a new interest emerged in Jewishness,” the rabbi said in an interview with BosNewsLife. Many young Jews asked questions from their parents who for years were reluctant to speak about their Jewish identity, he added. Köves was Hungary’s first Orthodox rabbi to be ordained since the Holocaust in 2003, at the age of 23.
He said the recent “Jewish revival” convinced Hungarian public television to allow his congregation to once again use the Óbuda Synagogue as a place of worship and culture. ‘This is I believe Eastern Europe’s first synagogue that will be restored to its former splendor and will regain its original function.”
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Some $2 million will be needed to renovate the building, according to Jewish estimates. Mainly Hungarians donated so far $300,000, which was used to “restore the prayer hall and to establish a cultural center and kosher kitchen on the first floor,” the rabbi added.
Köves cautioned that not everyone is pleased that Israeli Minister of Religious Services, Yakov Margi en Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger are attending the reopening ceremony of the synagogue.
“Unfortunately antisemitism has increased also in Hungary, partly because of the economic crisis… It’s horrific that during the recent elections the openly, racist, right-wing Movement for a Better Hungary, Jobbik, received 12 percent of the parliamentary seats,” Köves said.
The rabbi and his children were previously harassed by supporters of Jobbik’s parliamentary wing, the Magyar Gárda, or Hungarian Guard, he told BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.
Yet, Köves remains hopeful about the future.
With some 100,000 people, Hungary hosts Eastern Europe’s largest Jewish community, outside Russia. “Many of them survived the Holocaust and look forward to once again hear the voice of Jacob from the synagogue,” he stressed.
The synagogue is to open for the wider public around the Jewish New Year on September 8.