Tracking Jewish & Family Histories
Interesting Family Trips & Activities
Kazinczy Orthodox Synagogue (Photo credit: Andrea Medgyesi)
Why is Budapest so popular among Jewish travelers?
This question came up after Shabbat. Last Shabbat (Shabbat Beresit) I was in the Kazinczy Orthodox Synagogue. Unexpectedly, there was a record number of people at the service. I felt like I was in NYC, not in Budapest. It was very emotional to see this beautiful shul so full of people again. There were around 200-300 people, mainly Americans and Israelis. Unfortunately, the local Orthodox community is small due to the loss of lives during WWII. Also, many of the survivors immigrated after the war or during the Hungarian revolution in 1956, mainly to the USA, Israel, England and Canada. Obviously, the Communist regime did not help the situation. So, this Shabbat instead of only a few dozen people at the shul, it was nice to see the big crowd.
Back to the question of why Budapest is so popular? The reasons for coming to Budapest are so many.
Tracking Jewish history & visiting synagogues
We have people who look for important Rabbis’ graves which are easily reachable from Budapest. Just mentioning the most famous ones like Chatam Sofer in Bratislava/Pressburg (his Yahrzeit is after Simchat Torah), Moshe Teitelbaum in Satoraljaujhely or Reb Sajele in Keresztir. Other people come looking for their family roots. Some people say if your DNA test has no Hungarian blood, you might not be Jewish((-:
Budapest is also very popular because celebrating Shabbat or any Jewish Holidays is relatively easy here. During my personal travels, I realized this big difference between other popular destinations. Budapest has several functioning Synagogues and kosher restaurants, which are open for pre-paid clients on Shabbat all year-round. Must say booking in advance – most of the time, even weeks before – is highly recommended. (At the moment you can book Shabbat meals in the Carmel, Hanna, and Keren- Or Chabad Center).
My experience is that even not so religious people are happy to go to enjoy a Shabbat Service or join for the meal in a kosher place. These occasions allow the travelers to meet with local people, getting firsthand information about Jewish and general life in Hungary, and of course meet with other fellow Jews,maybe from other parts of the world or with friends from home.
Many Jewish travelers come to Budapest to visit the many Jewish sites of interest. Including so many beautiful Synagogues – we are so lucky having them! Do not forget here there was no Kristallnacht in Hungary. Most of the synagogues were heavily damaged during WWII but not destroyed. Just think about it, these are the reasons why Budapest has the largest Synagogue in Europe which is the Dohany Synagogue. Besides Synagogues, there are so many other Jewish sites to see all around the city, including the Jewish Museum, Glass House (functioned during 1944-45 first as an immigration office then turned into shelter), Shoes Memorial at the Riverbank- just to mention a few.
The Shoes Memorial (Photo credit: Andrea Medgyesi)
Hannah Szenes Memorials
Among the less known sites there are the Memorials of Hannah Szenes. She was born in Budapest, immigrated to the Holy Land in 1939, later joined the mission to come back to Hungary to help save Hungarian Jews. She was captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned and tortured but she did not reveal the details of her mission. Eventually she died by firing squad on November 7, 1944. Today all around the World she is one of the most important Zionist Heroes, her famous song cannot be missed from any Holocaust Memorial event. (Eli Eli..)
We have a new statue in the Buda side of the city, just across the prison where her short life ended. Another, unique Hannah Szenes memorial is in Pest. This is the mini, guerilla- sculpture by Kolodko. By the way, Kolodko miniature sculptures also make the Budapest streets more special- as you can always find them in unexpected places such as a fence in a park, or on an electric pylon.
Hannah Szenes Statue (Photo credit: Andrea Medgyesi)
Family Trips & Activities: Parliament & the Children’s Railway
For those who are interested in non -Jewish related sites, as well, I highly recommend visiting the Hungarian Parliament Building. This is the 3rd largest Parliament in the world and according to Big7 Travel Guide, out of 50 most beautiful buildings of the world – the Hungarian Parliament Building won the 6th place. It took 19 years to complete and 40 kilograms of 22-23 carat gold were used for the building’s decoration! This iconic Building faces the river Danube. Do not be surprised to see the similarity between the London Parliament, Palace of Westminster, and the Budapest Parliament.
The Hungarian Parliament (Photo credit: Andrea Medgyesi)
For nature lovers or families coming with kids, take an excursion in the Buda Hills. Yes, in addition to heritage, culture, beautiful buildings and good food, Budapest also offers excursions from easy to more difficult levels. The Children’s Railway is the most popular of half or full day outings. It was opened in 1948 as a Pioneer railway according to the Soviet pattern. The first Children’s Railway was built in Tibilisz, Georgia – former Soviet Union. This is a narrow – gauge railway line which crosses the Buda Hills. It is about 12 km (more than 7 miles long) and makes it the longest Children’s Railway of the World. In 2014, Guinness World Records declared it the world's longest railway of its kind. What makes this railway so special is that this one is run by children aged 10-14 years. Except the driver, everyone on duty is a child. This serious work in the Children’s Railway is a privilege, only for good students. Seeing them in the ticket office, giving signals, saluting, or controlling the tickets on board, always amazed the travelers.
There are 7 stops which are good starting points to Lookout towers, forests, playgrounds, chairlift etc. The best is taking the Children’s Railway from the Szechenyi Hill Station, to where you can get from the Buda center by another unique public transportation, called Cogwheel railway. Just a few minutes’ walk, you will find the Station Building of the Children’s Railway. Inside do not miss to see the mosaic paintings about the pioneers! After a 20 minute ride on the train, get off at the John Hill stop. Climb up (easy) to the Elisabeth Lookout Place. This is the highest point of the city, enjoying a 360-degree view of Budapest. After it, it's easy to get to the Chairlift, which takes you back to the city. (From there by bus to the center)
The Children’s Railway (Photo credit: MTI/Koszticsak Szilard)
Exploring Budapest with a guide who gives history, stories, and life behind the Memorials, and other sites always add a lot to the pure facts.
Andrea Medgyesi, was born and raised in Hungary during the Communist era. Her parents were Holocaust survivors. She is the owner of the Jewish travel agency, called Jewish Visitors’ Service, specializing in Jewish interest tours in Hungary and surrounding countries. She also acts as a private tour guide for individuals or small groups.