How to capture the full range of thoughts and emotions of a day packed with visits that started with a shaharit service at the Frankel Utca Synagogue in Budapest and concluded with ma’ariv in the beautiful spacious living room at the residence of the American ambassador to Hungary.
After breakfast and remarks by a Jewish member of Parliament,, we boarded our bus for a half hour journey outside the city to the Jewish cemetery. We walked past graves of rabbis and aristocrats as well as of poor simple Jews, elaborate, ornate headstones and simple ones, some with only Hungarian words and others with Hebrew inscriptions, graves dating back hundreds of years, and some freshly prepared for use later the same day. At the memorial for victims of the Holocaust, which is not far from the memorial for the martyrs of WWI to honor the faithful, loyal Hungarian Jews who died serving their country we recited the first of three kaddishes and Eyl Malei rahamim memorial prayers we prayed this day.
A private tour of the magnificent Parliament building, the second largest in the world where we were escorted by the Prime Minister’s foreign policy adviser was followed by a visit to the “shoe memorial” to victims of the Holocaust by the bank of the Danube River. In the waning months of WW II, when the war’s outcome was inevitable and just a few months before the liberation of Auschwitz the Arrow Cross (the Hungarian Nazi party) rounded up Jews, tied them together and murdered them at the very spot where we stood.
From here we traveled after lunch to the Hungarian holocaust museum which poignantly and powerfully tells the story of the destruction and decimation of European Jewry in a way that is not overstated.
So what better way to recover from these powerful draining and depressing experiences than to go to a vibrant Jewish cultural center thriving with activities, teeming with life, filled with infants, toddlers, young people and elderly Jews. At the JDC sponsored Balint Jewish Community Center we met with dedicated staff and volunteers who were creating exciting programs designed to showcase the multifaceted dimensions of Jewish life and what it means to be a Jew. One program couples senior citizens, Holocaust survivors with young Jews. They meet for several months culminating in a journey together to Israel.
Our visit to Budapest concluded with a private reception for us at the home of the American ambassador who displayed an amazing familiarity and sensitivity to the plight of the Jews of Hungary and genuine concern for anti- Semitism. She alluded to how sad it was to witness and see a dying community. And while it is not yet a thriving community, we came away from our visit hopeful and inspired by the remarkable efforts of young people not yet ready to say Kaddish for Hungarian Jewry, but who were devoted to keeping the spark of Judaism alive.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Also published on Medium.