A medieval synagogue in Budapest reopened its doors in an official ceremony Thursday after nearly 400 years of disuse.
The house of prayer, popularly known as the Buda Castle Synagogue, was last in use in the 17th century during the period of the Ottoman conquest of Budavar, presently a district in the old city of Budapest.
The festive ribbon-cutting ceremony held in honor of the grand reopening of the synagogue was organized by the Chabad movement in Hungary and scheduled just ahead of Rosh Hashanah. In attendance were Hungarian President János Áder; Chief Rabbi of Holland and representative of the Rabbinical Center of Europe Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs; head of the EMIH - Hungarian Jewish Federation Rabbi Shlomo Kovesh; Av Beit Din of Orthodox Communities in Budapest Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, and Rabbi Asher Faith, the rabbi of the newly-restored synagogue, along with close to 1,000 local Jewish residents.
The EMIH - Hungarian Jewish Federation said that it hoped the opening of a new spiritual center in the capital of Hungary would “breathe fresh air” into Jewish life in the country and assist it with internal issues including “the widespread desire to emigrate from Hungary, rife assimilation, and a shrinking emotional connection to Israel which is most manifest among the younger generation.”
According to EMIH, a comprehensive study published several months ago, conducted in cooperation with the Szombat, the local Jewish newspaper, and Action and Protection Foundation – TEV, revealed that 75% of adults surveyed said they feel “a strong emotional connection to Israel,” whereas, among the younger generation, the numbers dropped significantly to an average of 66%.
In addition, the rate of mixed marriages has risen and has reached a record of 62% (among those surveyed between the ages of 18-34). Interestingly from age 35-44, the figure dropped to nearly half.
Some 100,000 Jews live today in present-day Hungary, which now makes it the third largest Jewish community in Europe. Some 95% of Hungarian Jews live in Budapest, comprising approximately 5% of the city’s population and making it one of the Jewish capitals of Europe.
“Seeing this place 70 years after the Holocaust, seeing hundreds of people celebrating this special event in the Buda Castle with their heads held high, in the presence of the honorable President, I can hear the footsteps of Israel’s final redemption,” said Kovesh at the dedication ceremony.
The Buda Castle Synagogue was built in the mid-13th century along with the newly-constructed city and served the local Jewish community almost steadily until the beginning of the 15th century. The synagogue is located in close proximity to one of the main city gates, which was built in the Middle Ages and known as the Jewish Gate until this very day.
In 1360, Jews were first expelled from Buda by King Louis I of Hungary. Four years later, Jews were permitted to return in Buda, yet only to pray in their synagogue.
Ultimately, the Jewish Quarter was destroyed by the order of King Sigismund around 1420 as a preliminary process to building the royal palace. Almost 600 years later, for the rededication ceremony, Hungarian Jews flocked en masse to the ancient synagogue for the first time since the expulsion.