From Synagogue to TV Studio to Synagogue!
Sixty years after it was emptied of its Jewish worshipers, the oldest synagogue in Hungary opened its doors to services this Rosh Hashanah.
“This is the best, most respectable answer to Nazism and anti-Semitism, which once removed us from here, and proof that the people of Israel live – Am Israel Chai,” Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger said at the rededication of the Óbuda Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary.
In a ceremony attended by local dignitaries and rabbis, as well as some 1,500 members of the Jewish community, Metzger recited a prayer of thanks that after 60 years, and a few days before Rosh Hashana, “these walls will again be witness to prayer and a Torah scroll.” Letters of blessing from President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi were also read at the event.
At the time the Synagogue was built (in 1820, replacing the older one from 1737), Óbuda was the only city in the Budapest region to allow Jewish settlement and the only city in the Hapsburg Empire where Jews were free to engage in various trades. Upon its completion, the synagogue drew thousands of Jews. Óbuda was home to the largest Jewish community in Hungary, and would later be joined with Pest to form the Hungarian capital Budapest.
The Óbuda synagogue was closed down after the Holocaust. In the 1960’s, it was converted to state-run television studios. The elegant facade of the building was not damaged, but the sanctuary and three-story interior, designed in the French Empire style, were destroyed.
It was the young Rabbi Slomó Köves, head of the Orthodox United Hungarian Jewish Congregation, who last year began to seek out a building that could serve as a synagogue to accommodate the growing community’s needs. The Óbuda synagogue was returned to the Jewish community last April. Valued at an estimated four million dollars, the synagogue will be restored to its former grandeur after months of extensive renovations and restorative work.
“The Holocaust and following socialism erased the Jewish tradition, but after the change of regime Jewish agencies were allowed entry… this is a reversed situation of the Jewish directive ‘you shall teach your sons’ – in our case, it is the sons who are providing the parents with the information on Judaism”, one of the speakers said.