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5+1 Synagogues in Buda on the crossroads of a meaningful past and concealment

The capital has plenty of buildings that testify the crucial moments in Hungarian history. Synagogues you may encounter throughout the city are no different. These sites function as public places, houses of worship, and sacred monuments. Let’s visit the Buda side and learn about the customs and history of the Hungarian Jewish community!

Bet Shalom

The old Synagogue of Lágymányos served as the centre of the Hungarian Jewish community in South Buda for a long time, but this building was nationalised in 1950, then acquired by the Society for the Dissemination of Sciences in 1966 and was transformed into a studio for sciences. The successor, the Bet Shalom Synagogue, has been operating as a house of prayer since the early 1960s, but was only given its name in 2007. Following a major refurbishment, the synagogue was expanded in 2012 with a room for study, a library area, a spacious social hall and a kosher kitchen. The prayer room on the first floor has been modernised also, and the most spectacular view is offered to the faithful by the lavish sky blue ceiling with silver coloured stars of David painted on it that make the interior even more magical. The rest of the synagogue was set up in a rather simple, clean style, and between snow-white walls and columns only the large wooden Torah cabinet and the eternal fire in front of it attract people’s attention.

The Synagogue of Újbuda

The opening of the synagogue at Bocskai út 37. was celebrated by a crowd of thousands in 1936, but the Israelite community known for its cohesion could not have guessed at that time that the newly inaugurated house of worship would not be open for long. In 1944, the religious centre, which could accommodate 1,000 people, was converted into a warehouse by German military troops, and used as a stable during the siege of Budapest. The Holocaust survivors returned to their house of worship in 1945, but the Synagogue of Újbuda was nationalised in 1950 and then became the property of the TIT (Society for the Dissemination of Sciences) in the ‘60s. It was not until 2021 that the Synagogue and its associated Chabad Centre regained its old glory. The interior of the Synagogue has been renovated to resemble the original building as closely as possible: its most impressive decorative elements are the coloured ceramic printed glass, which was produced on the basis of old photos using a modern process.

The Synagogue of Óbuda

Budapest’s oldest Jewish house of worship, still operating today, is famous far and wide. The Synagogue, built in the Classicist style, is considered one of the most beautiful in Central and Eastern Europe. The Synagogue of Óbuda in the third District of Budapest still had the style of Baroque architecture in the 18th century, but due to the inadequate foundation and unfavourable soil conditions, the walls cracked, and a renovation of the building began in the early 19th century. András Landherr was commissioned to draw up the plans, and according to his idea, the Synagogue was given a classicist-style south façade, adorned with an open colonnade supported by Corinthian columns. Above the portico is an ornate tympanum, beneath of which is a quote in Hebrew: ‘Every prayer, every supplication that of any man ... spreading arms unto this house.’ Throughout history, the Synagogue has endured several difficult periods: the ice flooding of the Danube, which culminated in March 1838, did not spare the building either, and the Jewish community saved the Torah scrolls using punts. During World War II, the building was severely damaged, sold in the ‘60s to become a museum and a supply store. The 5th studio of the Hungarian Television worked in it from 1970, and the famous puppet film Süsü was made within the walls of the Synagogue. Finally regained its religious function in 2010 and has since served as a house of prayer. Today, the Synagogue led by Köves Slomó is a symbol of the resurgent Hungarian Jewish community.

The Synagogue of the Castle of Buda

Well hidden in the imposing surroundings of the Buda Castle District, we can trace back centuries of history in this Jewish house of worship. The history of the Buda Jewish Quarter and its Synagogue dates back to the Middle Ages. The house of worship was originally built at the end of the 14th century in Gothic style. After World War II, the building was partially restored, and the house of worship, where painted figures with Hebrew inscriptions, two larger frescoes and several excavated fragments of frescoes were found, went to the Budapest History Museum and was used exclusively as an exhibition hall for a long time. Religious and community life finally resumed in the Synagogue after 400 years, after the Unified Jewish Community of Hungary (EMIH) agreed with the museum and the local government in 2016. It has been a place of worship since then, and is operated as a synagogue. The permanent exhibition in the building reveals to visitors the life of the medieval and Turkish Jewish districts of the Buda Castle and presents many synagogues found during archaeological excavations in the Castle District, which are not open for visitors.

The Synagogue of Frankel Leo út

The synagogue, designed by Sándor Felner and mainly hidden at present, was of a completely different exhibit when it was handed over in 1888. Parks, one-storied houses and a Jewish butcher shop surrounded it, and the entrance was in today’s Frankel Leó utca. It was later built around, and the house of worship disappeared from the sight of the bystanders being concealed by a six-story apartment building. The eclectic, neo-Gothic-style Synagogue, able to host 400 people, is a real jewellery box, and offers an exceptional appearance. The central element of the interior is the Bima sealed by two seven-pronged candles, where the Torah is read during worship. The names of the Holocaust martyrs and the former rabbis of the Synagogue are engraved in the walls. The stained glass windows decorated with the Star of David, the ornate chandelier and the Ark of the Covenant lend an amazing atmosphere to the more than 100-year-old building, which served also as the scenery of István Szabó’s 1999 film ‘A napfény íze’ (The Taste of Sunlight).

The Cháj Gallery in Szentendre is a real cultural and religious centre, visited not only by members of the Jewish community, but also by tourists. The Cháj Gallery operates as an art gallery, a Jewish shop and a kosher café. It was opened in December 2018 with the aim of introducing Jewish history, culture and traditions to the widest possible audience from an artistic perspective. Approximately, 4-6 exhibitions of various Jewish-themed and Jewish-related works of art are organised on site, as well as colourful programs such as kosher cooking classes or Sabbaths (rest days) for families.