(September 23, 2019 / JNS) It’s not often that one new synagogue, let alone two, opens in a nation such as Hungary, but that’s what happened on Sept. 22, in addition to the completion of two new Torah scrolls.
“This was a historical and motivating event, finishing two Torah scrolls on the shore of the Danube and opening two synagogues in one day—something that probably didn’t happen since the Holocaust,” Rabbi Shlomo Koves, chief rabbi of the EMIH-Hungarian Jewish Alliance and a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Budapest, told JNS.
“I finished the two Torah scrolls myself at the place where 75 years ago, our martyrs were brutally shot into the water,” said the rabbi. “Seeing local Hungarian Jews celebrating on this occasion shows that Judaism in Hungary doesn’t only have a past but it has a future.”
Koves said one synagogue was inaugurated in Szentendre, a suburb of Budapest, complete with music and dancing in the streets. Not only a synagogue, it includes a kosher cafe and a Jewish art gallery.
The other synagogue is located in Budapest and will serve as a Jewish community center.
Approximately 100,000 Jews now reside in Hungary, after as many as 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the years of World War II and the Holocaust.
Beginning in December 1944, tens of thousands of Jews were lined up, tied together and shot by members of the pro-Nazi “Arrow Cross” on the banks of the Danube River, where they fell into the water after having been ordered to leave their footwear on land.
Erected in April 2005, the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” monument was erected, one of the landmarks of Budapest.
In his speech at the ceremony, Koves said: “According to the laws of nature, the river always symbolizes life. However, about 70 years ago, in 1944, on the bank of the Danube River, brutal murders of thousands of Jews took place, and since then, to us, the waters of the Danube symbolize the complete opposite—not life and completeness, but death. But today, we are here to restore things to as they were before. The two new synagogues on the bank of the Danube symbolize the return of the Jewish people to life after the Holocaust. The Hungarian Jewish community can now live freely, develop, learn and become familiar with Jewish traditions, and become an integral and central part of the Hungarian community.”
As for the community Koves leads, he told JNS earlier this year that it is burgeoning, with 16 Chabad rabbis in the country, along with a Jewish elementary school, high school and university.
Outreach to unaffiliated Jews is making inroads, he said, and the youth seem interested in their Jewish identity, more so than their parents had decades beforehand.
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