Thursday, May 21, 2009

What we did in Budapest Part Three

We went looking for our roots. This is the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest, built in a Byzantine style.

The interior of the synagogue. In the old days, the women would sit in the balcony and the men would sit on the ground floor. The big white thing at the front is the aron ha-cohen, the ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept.

A close up of the ark:

Close up of the women's gallery and the beautiful ceiling

Leesa and I are both of Hungarian Jewish descent. My father's mother's father was a tinsmith, we think from Budapest. He may have gone to shul here, who knows? My father's father was from a tiny village just over the border in Transylvania. Transylvania has a very large ethnic Hungarian population and was part of Hungary until WWI. My grandfather was born in 1901 and lived there when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He had all kinds of stories about living in this tiny village. His parents died when he was still very young, only 13, so he went to live with his sister, and used to sneak across the border during the war to steal milk from the soldiers' cows. The only thing he brought with him to America as a reminder of his parents were his father's tefillin, which men are supposed to wear during weekday prayers (this only happens in Orthodox communities these days, but in Conservative communities women will wear tefillin too). We inherited the tefillin after my granparents passed away ten years ago. The tefillin are very old and really should be in a museum, but they are sitting in my dad's study. Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw this at the Museum of Judaism at the synogogue:

The bag the tefillin are in is exactly like the velvet one with the Star of David, and the tefillin look just like the leather ones. On the right, rosh means "head" (like Rosh HaShannah is the head of the year) and yad on the left means hand.

The memorial to the Holocaust in the courtyard of the synogoge

We walked around the area that was used as the Jewish ghetto during the war. The Jews were locked into a series of interlocking courtyards and locked away from the outside world. Now of course they've been renovated and look all new and spiffy, but I can only imagine how terrible it must have been to be locked away from the sun, the outside world tantalizingly close, not knowing if the Nazis would come for you the next day or not.

Of 825,000 Jews living in Hungary before 1941, only 255,000 survived the war.

This memorial stands in the courtyard of the Dohany Street Synogogue. It was made out of the bricks of the ghetto wall. It is marked zachor, remember.

No comments: