Shalom Life | April 03, 2015

Shalom, Budapest: A Jewish Culture Guide

Budapest has the largest Jewish population in Eastern Europe, with estimates ranging from 80,000 to 110,000.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: March 11th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Budapest

Budapest's Jewish Centre

The Jewish community in Budapest (originally known as Buda during the medieval period) first formed during the late 11th and early 12th centuries. The first synagogue was constructed in 1307. However, due to discrimination and expulsion in the mid 14th century, said synagogue was burned down.

The subsequent century was more prosperous for Jews in Budapest. They were granted state privileges and even representation. All changed again in the late 15th century, when the Ottoman Empire invaded what is present-day Hungary. Those Jews who did not flee to modern western Hungry, faced deportation to Turkey.

Within a couple years, however, Jews were permitted to return to Buda, subsequently joining the thriving economy under Turkish rule. For nearly two centuries, the Jewish community thrived under Ottoman rule, despite heavy taxation. Things changed with the Siege of Buda in 1686, when the Holy Roman Empire attempted to recapture the city. Understandably, Jews sided with the Turks.

After a long battle, the Holy Roman Empire succeeded in recapturing Buda. The Jewish district in the city was burned to the ground, and all surviving Jews were expelled from the city. During the next century and a half under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, the Jewish community faced discrimination and even expulsion, but there were prosperous times as well.

When Budapest was formed in 1873, the Jewish community began to truly flourish. Into the 20th century, there was an influx of Jewish immigration. During the interwar period, Jews prospered tremendously – some estimates are that Jewish families owned more than half of all businesses. However, this success bred resentment towards Jews by some Hungarian leaders.

As fascism began to spread throughout Europe in the ‘30’s, so did anti-Semitism in Hungry. After World War I, Hungary lost vast swaths of its territory. With the on-set of World War II, Hungary sided with Germany, in hopes of regaining those lost lands. An estimated 15,000 Budapest Jews were killed in labor camps, prior to the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. By the time of liberation on January 16, 1945, nearly fifty percent of Budapest’s Jewish population had perished in the Holocaust.

Dohany Street Synagogue

Today, Budapest has the largest Jewish population in Eastern Europe, with estimates ranging from 80,000 to 110,000. There are 26 synagogues in the city, including the Dohany Street Synagogue (located in the Jewish Quarter), which is the largest in Europe. Within the area that incorporates said synagogue, there is also the Hungarian Jewish Museum, Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park, the Jewish cemetery, and the Heroes' Memorial Temple. If one is inclined to wander, there is a Jewish Quarter Walking Tour that takes roughly 2 hours to complete. If you prefer guided tours, outfits like UniqueBudapest offer 12 different tours of the city in English.

Other sites of interest throughout Budapest include the Holocaust Memorial Center, which also is home to the Páva Synagogue. The Shoes of the Danube Embankment is a world-famous memorial built in 2005 in honor of those lost during the Holocaust.

With a Jewish community that is strong, proud, and steeped in history, Budapest is definitely worth the visit.

Links:

http://www.dohanystreetsynagogue.hu/

http://visitbudapest.travel/activities/budapest-sightseeing/jewish-quarter-walking-tour/

http://hdke.hu/en

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