I was invited to participate in a Jewish heritage press trip to Budapest, Hungary. During this trip, I experienced the most amazing and unforgettable city filled with rich history and exotic beauty. Budapest is considered the most sophisticated of all central European capital cities and is often referred to as “the Paris of the East.” After being there for a week, I now understand why. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed at the five-star historic luxury Corinthia Budapest Hotel. Beautifully restored for the new generation of travelers — truly a hotel to experience. The Corinthia Budapest Hotel is an impressive landmark building located in the city’s heart with great bars and restaurants, spacious rooms, and The Royal Spa, which offers spa treatments and a jacuzzi and a sauna for your ultimate relaxation.
The beautiful city of Budapest is Europe’s third largest Jewish community, with approximately 100,000 Jews. Jewish history dates back to Roman times, and Jews have always played an outstanding role in the city’s economic, political and cultural life. Today, Budapest has many fine synagogues, kosher restaurants, and Jewish schools. The unique Dohany Street Synagogue, the most impressive and largest in Europe, stands next to the moving Holocaust Memorial, dedicated the over 600,000 Jews who perished during the Nazi reign of terror. The Jewish Museum has a wealth of artifacts and documents relating to Jewish history in Hungary. Budapest is definitely one more pearl strung on the Danube necklace, a vibrant metropolis offering warm hospitality and an abundance of Jewish interest. The city is famed for its distinctive art nouveau architecture incorporating colorful Hungarian folk motifs. Some of the outstanding examples of this style are the Applied Arts museum on Ulloi ut; the Gresham Palace on the Pest side of the Chain Bridge – now being converted into a deluxe hotel, the buildings on and around Szabadsag square, including the Postal Bank on Hold St., and the Theater on Paulay Edy street.
Some recommendations of places to visit and things to do in Budapest:
Visiting the Old Jewish District in the historic heart of Budapest, a narrow, triangular and busy area. Walking through the quarter’s streets, you can witness the history of the Jews of Hungary and Budapest. But if you observe closely, you can discover today’s life, too.
The Great Synagogue: Dohány Street Synagogue
The Dohány Street Synagogue, also known as The Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue, is a historical building in Erzsébetváros, the 7th district of Budapest, Hungary. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world. It seats 3,000 people and is a center of Neolog Judaism. The Dohány Street Synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial and the Jewish Museum, which was built on the site on which Theodor Herzl’s house of birth stood
The Jewish Museum was constructed on the plot where Theodor Herzl’s two-story Classicist style house used to stand, adjoining the Dohány synagogue. The Jewish Museum was built in 1930 in accordance with the synagogue’s architectural style and attached in 1931 to the main building. It holds the Jewish Religious and Historical Collection, a collection of relics of the Pest Hevrah Kaddishah (Jewish Burial Society), ritual objects of Shabbat and the High Holidays and a Holocaust room.
In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto and served as a shelter for many Jews. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter of 1944-1945 are buried in the synagogue’s courtyard
The Heroes’ Temple seats 250 people and is used for religious services on weekdays and during the winter time, was added to Dohány Street Synagogue complex in 1931. The Heroes’ Temple was designed by Lázlo Vágó and Ferenc Faragó and serves as a memorial to Hungarian Jews who gave their lives during World War I.
MONUMENTS TO RESCUERS: This was a very sentimental visit that resonated to many of us. The following are monuments in Budapest to the Gentiles who worked to save Jews during the Nazi occupation by providing them with false papers.
In memory of those who had died, there is a memorial by the sculptor, Imre Varga, depicting a weeping willow with the names and tattoo numbers of the dead and disappeared in the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park. The Raoul Wallenberg Emlékpark ( memory park) in the rear courtyard holds the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs — at least 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis.
Other memorials Among the Nations included:
Swiss Vice-consul Carl Lutz; Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian man who, with a strategic illusion, declared himself the Spanish consul, releasing documents of protection and current passports to Jews in Budapest without distinction (he saved five thousand); Mons. Angelo Rotta, an Italian Prelate Bishop and Apostolic Nuncio of the State of Vatican City in Budapest, which issued protective sheets, misrepresentations of baptism (to save them from forced labor) and Vatican passports to Jews, without distinction of any kind present in Budapest (saving 15,000). He ultimately? saved, with his secretary Mons. Gennaro Verolino, tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II
Kozma Utca Jewish cemetery
This Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Budapest is located next to a large general and special Catholic cemetery. Since 1891 over 300,000 persons of Jewish origin are buried here. The cemetery is still in use. Beside the magnificent crypts designed in the early 20th century, there are many other special monuments, including one to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.At this cemetery, many famous Hungarians of Jewish origin are buried, for example, the architect Béla Lajta (1873 – 1920) and Hungary’s first winner of an Olympic Gold medal Alfréd Hájos (1875-1955)
Holocaust Memorial Center
The Holocaust Memorial Center pays tribute to the victims of the Hungarian Holocaust. The complex, inaugurated in 2004, houses a synagogue, a museum and an inner courtyard with a glass memorial wall dedicated to the over 500,000 victims with their names inscribed on the wall. The museum’s permanent exhibition tells the history of the Holocaust through the stories of individuals in an interactive way. Original documents and personal belongings are on display.
The Jewish Summer Festival – August through September. With the initiative of the Jewish Community of Budapest, the Jewish Tourism and Cultural Center organized the first festival in 1998, with the central location being Europe’s largest and one of its most beautiful synagogues, the Dohány Street Synagogue. Internationally renowned artists from Europe and around the globe made the festival more and more exquisite year after year, with growing fame, meant for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.
Rachel Raj Flodni – How to make the perfect FLODNI – Traditional Hungarian Jewish CakeRachel specializes in Flódni, a traditional Eastern European Jewish pastry. Visit this bakery and learn how to make the perfect Flodni – a traditional Hungarian Jewish cake. Participants will learn how to prepare Rachel’s Flodni traditional family recipe, which contains an abundance of poppy seeds, apples, walnuts, and homemade plum jam.
Lubavitch of Hungary
I was invited for Shabbat dinner by Rabbi Shmuel Raskin and Rabbi Shlomo Koves. This was an amazing Shabbat dinner surrounded by many invited guests from around the globe, including Australia, Brazil, Las Vegas, and Israel with a night full of singing and good food! Perfect Shabbat Dinner- Make your reservation – Phone: 36-1-268-0183 – www.ChabadHungary.com
Macesz Huszar Restaurant: A Jewish- Hungarian bistro in the Old Jewish District of Budapest – http://maceszhuszar.com (Not kosher)
Mazal Tov “ruin restaurant” Located next door to Fogasház in the Jewish Quarter of District VII – It is an idyllic covered inner courtyard, so typical for the Budapest Jewish quarter. Some trees and plants make it a comfy urban garden.
Hanna’s Kosher Kitchen VII., Dob utca 35.
Tel:+(361) 342-1072 Supervision: Rabbi Menakhem Adler – Rabbanut Ramat Gan.
Karmel (Carmel) Restaurant.
Kazincy u. 31. Budapest, Hungary Tel: (++36-1) 322-1834 / Tel: (++36-1) 342-4585
I recommend visiting Budapest and all the places representing Jewish heritage. It may be a physically small country but it is packed with such rich history and architecture within its borders. After visiting Budapest I now understand why this city ranks among the world’s most scenic and entertaining capitals as is often referred as the “Pearl of the Danube” It is the perfect destination: beautiful architecture, rich cultural life, delightful gastronomy and plenty of thermal spas.
Hungary has always been part of a civilization that shares cultural and intellectual values as well as common religious traditions. It can be said without exaggeration that each historic city in the country is a rare gem and a priceless treasure. I would not have missed this trip for anything.
To plan a trip to Budapest, call the Hungary National Tourist Office at 212-695-1221 or log on to www.gotohungary.com
For luxurious accommodations stay at the five stars Corinthia Hotel Budapest: www.corinthia.com/hotels/budapest/
Royal Spa photograph courtesy Corinthia Hotel Budapest
Story & photography by Meyer Harroch -New York Jewish Guide and New York Jewish Travel Guide.
The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Hungarian Tourism Board.