And the answer is… my new cover photo is from the synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén utca in Budapest’s District VII. It’s in ruins. There’s a man in a small booth selling tickets to visitors, but those are few and far between, and the modest ticket price of 500 forint doesn’t contribute much toward the cost of the massive restoration it needs.
It could be as spectacular as Budapest’s big synagogue on Dohány utca, which is Europe’s biggest functioning Jewish temple. But perhaps the fact that the Rumbach utca one stands in ruins reveals more about Hungarian history. In World War II, 16-18,000 rural Hungarian Jews were rounded up here and taken to a Nazi-occupied region of Ukraine and slaughtered. After the war, the community returned, but abandoned the synagogue in the 1960’s since the building was falling apart, and the community that founded it, a group that felt the Dohány utca synagogue was too progressive, while the Orthodox one too restrictive, was left to choose.
Our guide, a young Jewish woman whose family history is rooted in this neighborhood, took us into the octagonal space to look up at the spectacular cupola. She told us that a synagogue is not holy in and of itself, like a church – only when enough people gather there. There were only five of us there at the time, so it wasn’t holy. Nevertheless, it was magical. And it will be used for a theater performance soon, at which I hope enough people will gather to make it a holy place once again, despite its troubled history.
My mother and I were on a UniqueBudapest tour entitled Secrets of the Jewish Quarter. I’ve only given away one tiny secret here, so I highly recommend you attend this (three-hour) tour, and I’ve enjoyed their other tours, team-building games and parties! See www.uniquebudapest.com, or email email@example.com for more information. Here’s a link to the synagogue on a map of Budapest… http://g.co/maps/deu9a.