The Budapest Jewish Community is the largest in eastern Europe. If you visit from far away as a tourist of business visitor, you will have plenty of things to do and see in the Budapest Jewish district. There are kosher restaurants, shops and cafes to cater for any needs. On a recent visit to Budapest’s Jewish district I struck gold when, by total chance, I met the wife of an Orthodox Synagogue’s caretaker and she gave me a tour of the Budapest Jewish District. Read this post and the following two to get a sense of what it is like living in Budapest as a Jew.
This is the first part in a 3-part series about the Budapest Jewish Community. Read about Kosher Food here, and Jewish Education in Budapest here.
I was showing a Jewish friend around in Budapest when we decided to take a break in a café. It was full but it was to our advantage as it turned out later. I asked a woman if we could share her table and she answered: “Yes, of course, I got my seat the same way an hour earlier!”
After a short chat, Katalin revealed she was Jewish and she offered to guide us around the district for two days. She showed us the synagogue her husband looks after, as well as the largest and smallest synagogues in Europe. She took us to recently opened local Jewish restaurants, bars and pastry shops and she also introduced us to Rabbi Moshe T. Weiszberger, who was the Rav of the Budapest Orthodox community at the time.
The Orthodox Rabbi
Weiszberger, an inquisitive, 63-year-old Israeli-Hungarian with a long, white beard was one of only 12 rabbis in Hungary. He had since retired but had lived in Budapest since 2004, working for the revival of a strong, religious Jewish community.
“When I arrived here seven years ago, I set the preservation of the Jewish way of life to be my most important task.”
Hungary was ravaged by World War II and it lost more than three-quarters of its Jewish population. In 1941 Hungary had a population of 725,000 Jews, 400,000 within the current borders, of which 185,000 lived in the capital city Budapest.
The Thriving Budapest Jewish Community
This thriving community gave famous people like media mogul Josef Pulitzer, scientists Edward Teller and Leo Szilard, conductor George Solti and George Szell, actor Tony Curtis, actress Zsazsa Gabor, director George Cukor and philantropist George Soros to the world.
Today, even with only 100,000 residents, most of whom reside in Budapest, Hungary has the largest Jewish population in Central-Eastern Europe. There is a Jewish hospital with kosher food and Jewish doctors, three schools with 1,000 students, a Jewish university to train rabbis and teachers and 26 active synagogues.
There is also a bi-weekly called Uj Elet (New Life), many cultural and youth organizations and a world renowned Jewish Summer Festival.
“From the first day of my stay I wanted to offer more services and kosher food to the community,” said Weiszberger.
Read my next blog post about kosher eating and shopping in Budapest here.
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