Hungary is one of those countries that is truly steeped in history. It has been a larger and smaller territory, part of the Ottoman empire, ruler as the Austro-Hungarian empire. It has accepted different cultures but has also many times rejected the idea of multiple cultures and beliefs.
The Jews have a long history in the country that is now known as Hungary, and generally as a religious group, have been the targets of segregation and aggression in so many societies. They are, in my opinion, one of the strongest and most enduring religious groups in history, having survived so much suffering.
In Hungary, some records pre-date 895AD. Some examples of their discrimination in Hungary include the decree that stated every Jew should wear a piece of red cloth, a law that was passed during the reign of Kind Ladislaus IV (1272 to 1290). During the black death (1349) they were expelled from the country. They have been burnt at the stake (1490 – 1516) and during the reign of Queen Maria Theresa (1740 to 1780) the Jews were expelled from Buda, which is considered the more affluent side of the Danube river which crosses the now amalgamated capital Budapest. In much more recent years, during the last years of the World War II, over 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed, mainly through deportation to Nazi-German extermination camps.
We are no strangers to the sad and painful parts of Jewish history, most of learning of it mostly from WWII. However, after all this suffering, the Jews are now living and have budding lives in Hungary, mostly concentrated in Budapest. Knowing all their history and suffrage in the country made it all more fascinating for me to be able to spend some time at the Jewish Quarter and learn a bit more about their religion.
The fronts of the synagogues are absolutely breath taking and colourful buildings. Many recent synagogues are built in Moorish Revival, which is a sort of art nouveau and gothic mix, which is extremely colourful and almost exotic.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Synagogue inside. One of the things that I found fascinating was that they choose to feature the star of David as much as possible. The Great Synagogue, in Dohany Street, has the star featured so frequently, from the stain glass windows, the floor tiles, candelabras to the cross bars on their gates and fence. It is completely mesmerising, that it is such a clean building, so simple but at the same time looks so grand. The bimah is the table from which the Torah, the holy book of Judaism is read. The altar, if you will, is one of the most stunning centres and focal points I have ever seen and I absolutely love the 3D Star of David that hangs above it.
I found the building overall much more inviting and soothing than a church or cathedral in a way, because inspite of the Jewish community having suffered so much pain, their culture feels no need to cover their walls with images of the pain they have endured. It is just a simple faith that inspires simple living and acceptance. A truly welcoming building and beautiful insight into another culture. I would totally advise you all to visit at least one of the synagogues and either go for a walk around the Jewish Quarter or take one of the tours that run from the Great Synagogue.
Happy reading, writing and travelling!