The Old Jewish Quarter

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Up to the turn of the 18th century the city of Pest had been surrounded by a wall. Since no Jews were allowed to live within the city until the end of the 18th century, a ghetto was formed outside of the city. This prohibition was abrogated in 1783 when Emperor Joseph II decreed that cities could not restrict the settlement of Jews. (Previously they were allowed to enter the cities only during the large country markets – by paying an excessive toll). The city of Pest permitted settlement in 1786. The Jews were integrated into the evolving middle class and the way was opened for their assimilation and their own development to middle class citizens.

Three synagogues served the community in their district. The Orthodox Synagogue on Kazinczy Street built in 1913 based upon the designs the the Löffler brothers has an oriental floor plan and can seat 1000 believers. Viennese architect Otto Wagner made the plans for the Synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén Street, which makes use of a central design and also has an oriental appearance. Regrettably, it is in very bad condition, but is something special none-the-less. The imposing complex of the synagogue in Dohány Street symbolizes the power and vitality of the Jewish community of Pest. The second largest synagogue in the world, it was built with Byzantine and Moorish features based upon the designs of Ludwig Förster. Its three naves can hold three thousand people.

A wing added to the synagogue in 1931 provides space for the Hungarian Jewish Museum. Its exhibits present the historical, religious, and artistic artifacts of the Hungarian Jews from the Roman age on. On the site of the museum once stood the birth house of Tivadar Herzl, the founder of Zionism. A commemorative marble plaque pays tribute to him. Via Wesselényi Street one reaches Heroes’ Temple. Also built in 1931, it is a memorial to the ten thousand Hungarian Jews who fell during World War I. The weeping willow-shaped Holocaust Memorial in the courtyard is a monument in memory of the six hundred thousand Hungarian Jews deported during World War 2 On the leaves of metal the survivors engraved the names of their lost relatives.

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The horrors of World War 2 destroyed the life of an integrated middle class community and decimated a significant number of its members, who had added very much to Hungarian culture. Many great figures of Hungarian literary, artistic and scientific history were members of this community.

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After decades of oppression, the Hungarian Jewish community is once again experiencing a renaissance. Today this district is again called “The Golden Triangle”. A kosher hotel, a jesiwa, a mikwe, book and records shops, and galleries have recently been reopened. Restaurants offer kosher eastern European cuisine and traditional Jewish sweets are made at the Frölich Confectionary. The recently opened Simonyi Gallery next to the synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén Street is a real treasure chest. Here we find pearls of arts and crafts and graphic arts by contemporary artists: modern Jewish items with a popular touch, silver, bronze, porcelain, enamel and the luster of silk, reflecting the lights of the “golden triangle”. The pen sketches “für Emil”, illustrations with loving irony, show the events in the lives of the Jews on weekdays and on holidays and illustrate the duality which characterizes the relationship of Jewish people to life: the love of life and humor, always helping and sustaining through all the tragedies and persecutions.

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