Rosh Hashana services in Budapest were especially memorable this year.
Less than a week before, Budapest’s oldest synagogue was re-inaugurated in a historic ceremony attended by Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Hungarian Deputy Prime minister Zsolt Semjen.
Returned to the Jewish community this spring and renovated at record speed thanks to the generous support of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky and the Rohr family, the synagogue was ready in time for the holiday.
While Rosh Hashana services were well-attended throughout Budapest, the newly-restored Obuda synagogue drew unexpectedly large crowds.
Chabad shaliach Rabbi Shlomo Koves, who serves as the rabbi of the synagogue, led the services as 400 Jewish residents of all ages and backgrounds filled the large sanctuary. Two hundred remained for the meal that followed. At least half of those who attended had no previous contact with Chabad of Hungary, which until now had synagogues only in Pest, on the other side of the Danube river. For some it was the first time they set foot in a synagogue.
Three generations joined together on this unprecedented occasion. Young people were attracted by the publicity and excitement surrounding the new synagogue, and their own curiosity about Judaism. Those born after World War II saw the building used by the national television station for decades, then a few months ago returned to the Jewish community that is once again flourishing in Hungary following the collapse of communism. The oldest of the attendees, Holocaust survivors, shared their own memories of the synagogue as it was many years before. An elderly woman brought a fundraising ticket from the original post-war efforts to restore the building. A 65 year old man received his first aliya since his bar mitzvah, which took place in the very same place.
Yom Kippur services are expected to again attract 400 people, as enthusiasm for the project grows. But though the outpouring of public support has been encouraging, the restoration of the building is not yet complete. The next stage hinges on further financial support. Funds are needed for costly projects such as the restoration of the 25,000 Stars of David on the ceiling, the beautiful stain glass windows, and the ornate bimah. Plans are underway for classrooms and a children’s center as well.