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The History around us: 15 synagogues of Pest, which you must see once in your lifetime

They are monumental or small, even tiny; they are orthodox or neolog; bustling cultural centres or just empty gigantic halls; however, the synagogues of Pest have a common feature: you must visit all of them!

The House of Prayer in Pesterzsébet

The South Pest District of the Jewish Community in Budapest was reorganised 16 years ago, and then not only believers of Csepel, Pesterzsébet and Soroksár but also the Israelite residents of the surrounding towns, such as Monor and Dunaharaszti joined the community. As a result, the community first ‘outgrew’ the Csili House of Culture, and later the house of prayer created from the business premises provided by the local government proved to be too small. The idea that a space capable of accommodating a larger mass would be needed was raised in 2018. After a long search, BZSH found the perfect property. The house of prayer at Vörösmarty utca 8. was inaugurated by Péter Totha, Chief Rabbi, the leading rabbi of the Jewish community of South Pest and Győr, and it has been waiting for believers not only in a more spacious, but more beautiful and dignified environment since December 2018.

Pesti Stibel – Vörösmarty Synagogue

The building in Vörösmarty utca, which used to function as an orthodox house of prayer was closed in the mid-1980s, and thereafter, more than 40 years later, in August 2021, after a complete renovation, it was reopened under a name of Pesti Stibel for believers by the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH). ‘This house of prayer is a real urban gem, as stibel as such a small, intimate, familiar synagogue is called in Yiddish,’ wrote Rabbi Oirechman after the ceremonial opening, who also explained why the building was named Pesti Stibel. One of the special features of the synagogue is that the exact time of its establishment can only be deduced. According to architect urbanist Anna Perczel it may have been built as early as the end of the 19th century, but she could not prove it with an authentic source. However, it is certain that the building was used by the Jewish community as early as 1908. That year it was registered as the centre of the ‘Budapest Thorasz Chajim Religious Practice House Association’.

Kazinczy Utca Synagogue

At the end of the 19th century, the Jewish community of Pest was divided into three branches – neolog, status quo ante and orthodox. The house of prayer in Kazinczy utca was built for the latter, the community respecting traditions and living according to struct rules, on the basis of the plans of Sándor Löffler and Béla Löffler. The Löffler brothers managed to dream of a narrow yet monumental synagogue, which stands out from the row of buildings in Kazinczy utca with its terraced wings. The interior of the church can also be linked to the Löffler brothers: four steps lead up to the two-storey women’s galleries, and the Torah reading platform is located in the middle of the hall. The interior is also decorated with tracery windows painted by Miksa Róth and benches with orthodox synagogue Art Nouveau-Hungarian tulip and rose motifs. In the complex, in addition to the synagogue, there is a modern house of prayer, headquarters, kindergarten, Talmudic school, butcher’s shop and a bath, i.e. mikveh. The water in the latter is provided by a cistern and a well, in which one thousand litres of red wine was poured to make kosher, i.e. pure in ritual terms. This unusual building is in the centre of the Jewish Quarter, between kosher restaurants and cafés, you should stop in front of its terracotta walls and admire its beauty.

Vasvári Pál Utca Synagogue

The two-storey synagogue, built according to the plans of Sándor Fellner, combines the features of early Art Nouveau with the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance. The building proved to be useful not only as a house of worship but also as an educational institution and as a library, and soon it warmed its way into the heart of the Jewish community members. However, after World War II, the size of the declined and the building was in a very poor condition. The change was brought about by the end of communism in the history of the Vasvári Pál Utca Synagogue – since then it has undergone several extensive renovations, the courtyard has been decorated and the electricity network has been modernised. In the ‘90s, as a result of the work of Rabbi Báruch Oberlander the life of the synagogue started to flourish, and since 1998, following the traditions of the Budapest Talmud Society, the only yeshiva in Hungary (Talmudic College), the Pest Jesiva, has been operating in the synagogue. Not only Hungarian but also foreign students study at the institution.

ZSILIP Synagogue and Jewish Centre

Újlipótváros accommodated one of the largest contemporary Jewish community centres in the capital, it is in one of the Palatinus houses in the capital, which has become known as a synagogue and an open, welcoming cultural space. According to the original plans, the ceremonial opening of Zsilip was to be held in 2017; however, the wonderfully renovated and extended house of prayer was opened only in 2019, in which all age-groups can find the programs most attractive for them. In the two-storey building there study rooms, lecture halls, a kosher bagel parlour, a café and a children’s playhouse to fill the gaps throughout the district. However, due to the corona virus pandemic, people could visit the Zsilip only for a few months and then it closed its doors for one and a half years. In September 2021, it was reopened, having been redecorated, for the congregation and general public.

Keren-Or Chabad Keren Israeli Centre and Synagogue

The Keren-Or Chabad Cultural Centre, located in the heart of the city centre, plays an important role in the life of the Israeli community in Hungary, as the synagogue can be considered one of their favourite meeting places. Although thousands pass by in front of the Kiskörút building every day, few people know that it accommodates the headquarters of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), a modern house of prayer, a Judaica and a bookstore as well as an exciting cultural event. The Keren-Or Chabad Cultural Centre was previously part of the Museum Night program series, but film shows and other cultural and gastronomic programs are regularly held at the synagogue in the neighbourhood of Astoria.

Dohány Utca Synagogue

The building, inaugurated in 1859, is impressive in many ways: its history, architecture, unique Judaica collection and the special Holocaust memorial in its courtyard attract thousands of visitors. It is no coincidence that the Dohány Utca Synagogue is one of the most important sights of Budapest. Thanks to the grandiose size of Europe’s largest and second largest synagogue in the world and its towers facing the sky, it attracts the attention of those strolling in the city centre from afar. The Moorish-style building was designed by Ludwig Förster, an Austrian star architect, and the interior of the sanctuary was designed by Frigyes Feszl, the designer of the Vigadó. The 1,200-square-meter synagogue can accommodate 3,000 people: entering the space, it’s easy to imagine how significant the contemporary Jewish community may have been. During the years of the genocide, the synagogue bordered the ghetto. The cemetery in the courtyard of the church and the mass graves, the construction of which was born by compulsion, also testify this terrible period, as Jews do not normally bury themselves next to a synagogue. One of the main attractions of the Dohány Utca Synagogue is the Emmanuel Memorial Tree depicting a weeping willow, which is the work of the sculptor Imre Varga. Each of the 30,000 leaves on the tree has a name on it, and when the wind blows, the leaves make a weeping sound. The Hungarian Jewish Museum is located in the wing built to the synagogue in 1932.

Rumbach Utca Synagogue

There are also three significant synagogues in the centre of Budapest, in the area of the former Jewish quarter, these three buildings commemorate the division of Judaism into three branches. Out of the three branches, the idea of building the Rumbach Utca Synagogue was born among the members of the status quo ante community. The church was inaugurated in 1874, for the designer Otto Wagner, who later became world-famous, this building brought the fame. The famous synagogue with Byzantine and Moorish marks suffered enormous damage after World War II, then it slowly became extinct, and the need for renovation first arose in the 1980s. However, it took 40 years to complete the implementation, but it was definitely worth it. Beyond the sacral functions, the building inaugurated in June 2021 also operates as a cultural and community space. A kosher café and an exhibition space have been created from the apartment of the former church servant, and on the site of the women’s gallery there is an exhibition illustrating the story of Pest Jewry and the 20,000 people deported to Kamenets-Podolsky, Ukraine. In the renovated building, the Torah closet in the middle of the square can be sunk into a shaft, so the synagogue has also advanced into a great concert venue.

Synagogue in Újpest

It is a most impressive building in the 4th District, the three-aisled neolog synagogue with a side triforium is still an important meeting place for the Jewish believers living in the neighbourhood. It still operates in its old function; however, it is also home to an almost forgotten Holocaust memorial. The four reliefs on the wall of the church are the work of Edit Bán Kiss, who, inspired by her own experiences, created the works entitled Deportation, Forced Labour, Death Camp and Liberation. The architect of the synagogue is not known, according to the contemporary newspapers, it could have been designed by a certain architect called Gränner or Greier. After the Holocaust, the returning survivors immediately renovated the building, purchased the adjoining plot so that they could extend the synagogue garden, which was surrounded by a four-meter-high stone wall. The abovementioned monument can be seen on this wall.

Bet Elijahu – Páva Utca Synagogue

Walking on the side of Páva utca close to Üllői út, the ordinary pedestrians may not even notice that they are passing by a synagogue, as it is hidden from curious eyes. The building was designed by Lipót Baumhorn, a famous synagogue architect, in 1924 and currently functions as a museum next to the house of prayer, home to the Holocaust Documentation Centre and Memorial. The museum’s permanent exhibition, from Deprivation of Rights to Genocide, reveals the terrible process to the visitor in which certain citizens of the state were systematically deprived of their most important qualities, their humanity. The eclectic house of prayer used to be the second largest synagogue in Budapest, but today the empty space also reminds the visitor of the grave damage caused by the barbarous devastation of World War II. The interior of the synagogue renovated in 2004 is astonishing, the light blue ornamental stone painting on 800 square meters, the white side walls and the gold decoration give the space a unique atmosphere. Another special feature of the church is that the glass chairs named on the ground floor commemorate the members of the Jewish community who did not survive the cruelty of the Holocaust.

Nagyfuvaros Utca Synagogue

On the site of the synagogue of Józsefváros still operating today, there used to be a nightclub called Kis Vigadó, once with a dubious fame. Then, when the religious community of the district purchased the building at Nagyfuvaros utca 4. in 1922, the atmosphere here took a completely different direction. The former noise if the balls was replaced by the words of prayers in the halls, since a synagogue capable of accommodating 800 persons was built in the court of the building to the designs of Dezső Freund. In the beginning, the building was supplied with a glass roof to let in natural light; however, due to frequent damage, the roof was covered, so only artificial lighting provides some light. Nagyfuvaros utca functioned as a starred house during the Second World War. There was no special change in the life of the synagogue after the Holocaust, it has not been renovated or altered, it still functions as a house of prayer.

Teleki Tér Synagogue

Although we tend to think of Budapest Jewry as a homogeneous community, there have been, and still there are, significant differences between the various groups. People living in Újlipótváros or in the 7th District, were well-off, while Józsefváros, for example, was populated by the poorer persons, mainly by traders and craftsmen. Not coincidentally, the Teleki tér market that once operated here attracted Jews from the countryside to the city. Due to their limited financial conditions, they could not afford to build a large synagogue in Teleki tér; however, in the golden age, a number of shtiebels, that is houses of prayer operated in the neighbourhood. Out of them, the most significant one could have been the house of prayer in Teleki tér, which was constructed in 1920 by the opening of two flats, and which is the only operating Hasidic, Sephradic church in the capital. The uniqueness of the house of prayer is also given by the fact that its walls were painted with various paint rollers and various patterns, and its furniture was assembled from the shtiebel, which were no longer functioning.

Hegedűs Gyula Utca Synagogue

The 100-year-old building of the status quo synagogue of the 13th District can be found in Hegedűs Gyula utca by anyone who knows what they are looking for. At the beginning of the 20th century, due to the intensifying anti-Semitism, the solution of building hiding houses of prayer was spreading, for instance in Hegedűs Gyula utca, once Csáky út. The designer of the house of prayer, Lipót Baumhorn, connected the two-part building to the tenement house, which has eclectic and neo-renaissance elements from the outside. In the space consisting of a larger synagogue and a smaller house of prayer, there are prayers twice a day, and there are also instructions regularly for believers. The synagogue can accommodate 1,300 people, it is an important cultural space and meeting place, and it often accommodates cultural events and celebrations.

Hunyadi Tér Synagogue

One of the tenement houses of Hunyadi tér, located in Terézváros, in the embrace of Vörösmarty utca and Csengery utca, has been home to the neolog hall, which many people call only an apartment synagogue, since its establishment in 1896. In 2017, the square underwent a considerable renovation, during which the community space and kitchen were completely redecorated. In addition, the house of prayer, Abraham’s Tent, was renamed and painted on the inner facade of the synagogue.

Thököly Út Synagogue

The villa buildings of Thököly utca, which used to see better days, evoke the atmosphere of the turn of the century. One of them, the fabulous building at number 83, whose walls have been renovated recently renovated, could tell strange stories. The villa, which used to function as a mother’s home, was purchased by the local prayer community in 1930, when it was turned into an Orthodox synagogue. The house witnessed a terrible massacre during World War II, while today a devastating fire has sealed its fate for a while. However, it was renovated in 2020, and the synagogue was named Beth Aaron, the house of Aaron, after its founder. During the renovation, the designers made sure that the present would be shown in addition to the traditions, so that the illuminated neon stars of David would harmonise with the wooden benches in the synagogue. But the attic of the villa building also got a new function during the renovation, a community-youth space was constructed there.