By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– After some 60 years, the oldest synagogue in Hungary’s capital Budapest will reopen for the public Wednesday, September 8, just in time for the Jewish New Year.
The synagogue was forced to close its doors following the Holocaust, when Hungary became a Communist nation. Israel has described the event as proof of a revival of Jewish culture and religion in the country, despite concerns about anti-Semitism here.
Ahead of this week’s Jewish New Year prayers, a huge crowd, including Holocaust survivors, attended a dedication ceremony where a scroll of the Torah, the Jewish scriptures, was carefully carried into the 190-year old Obuda Synagogue.
Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger, who had come to Budapest for the events, told BosNewsLife that the synagogue’s re-opening marks a new beginning for Hungary’s Jewish community. “Because of the Holocaust, a lot of people didn’t come back to their places in this synagogue,” he said. “And after some years, the Communists took it and changed it into a textile museum and than into a studio for the [state] television. So to come here after 50 years, shows us that the renaissance in Hungary is a reality.”
He admits however that many Hungarian Jewish people remain afraid to openly attend religious services. “Because of the trauma of the Holocaust, there are here people who don’t think it’s necessary to say that they are Jews, because they are afraid that the Holocaust will happen again. Who knows?”
Yet several Holocaust survivors have come to listen to rabbis these days, in the same synagogue some of them attended when they were young. The visibly moved Szász András , 73, said it is a miracle that he can witness the re-opening of the synagogue. “I can show you a document that I was to go on a train carrying Jewish children to Switzerland,” he explained. “But my mother made a mistake with the departure time. That was my luck, as the train was bombed and everyone died.”
Eventually, he said, “a Christian family in Budapest managed to hide me and my parents in their home. We survived the war, but many other relatives perished.”
At least 600.000 Hungarian Jews died during the war when Hungary was a close ally of Nazi-Germany. The young rabbi Slomó Köves, who leads the Óbuda Synagogue, admits he is concerned about re-emerging extremism in Hungary, after the far right Movement for a Better Hungary – or Jobbik – became the third largest party in recent elections. However, the still ongoing renovation of his synagogue is the best way to tackle these concerns, he added.
“It is rare that a community, from its own strength, renovates a synagogue and uses it again for prayers and community life. That is the answer to all those voices that represent the strengthening antisemitism and strengthening racism [in Hungary],” Köves told BosNewsLife. “The best answer is to build and show that we are still alive and give people the chance to find their own identity again.”
The Israeli government agrees. In a letter read during Sunday’s ceremony, President Shimon Peres said he hopes the re-opened synagogue would unite people and in his words “become a house of prayer for everyone.”
With some 100,000 people, Hungary hosts one of Central and Eastern Europe’s largest Jewish communities, outside Russia. (This BosNewsLife News Story also airs via Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. http://www.dw-world.de )