In a momentous occasion, the Ohel Esther synagogue in Budapest reopened its doors after a closure spanning four decades. The reopening ceremony, attended by an overwhelming 400 participants, marked a significant milestone in the revitalization of this historic synagogue.
The synagogue underwent extensive renovations through a collaborative effort between the Hungarian Orthodox Community (MAOIH) and the Chabad- affiliated EMIH community. The highlight of the event was the completion and placement of a new Torah scroll within the sacred building.
In a poignant nod to the synagogue's rich history, a memorial plaque in Hungarian and Hebrew, dating back to the summer of 1931 (the 8th of Tamuz 5691), adorns the courtyard façade. This plaque commemorates the establishment of the synagogue in 1895 in memory of Bernát Kattler (Dov ben Yom Tov) and his wife, Mrs. Josefa Klein (Fessl bat Rizl). It also honors their only child, Erzsébet Kattler (Ester bat Fessl), who passed away prematurely. The Kattler Erzsébet Charitable Association is committed to preserving this memory for generations to come.
The renovation efforts have included the replacement of the deteriorated floor, meticulous restoration of the benches, and a complete refurbishment of the Ark and other sacred furnishings. This restoration, led by the MAOIH, signifies the first significant step in the collaboration between the two Orthodox Jewish organizations, EMIH and MAOIH.
However, a synagogue, no matter how grand, remains incomplete without a thriving community. To this end, a young and dynamic rabbinic couple has assumed the responsibility of rejuvenating this sacred space and fostering a close-knit community within its walls, where regular prayer had ceased almost four decades ago. In a remarkable twist of fate, Rabbi Mordechai (Motty) Bak, leading the charge in community building, shares a surname reminiscent of the last religious leader who served in this synagogue, Rabbi Mór Back, who presided over the services until the late 1970s.
The reopening of this historic synagogue in Budapest symbolizes a resurgence of Jewish cultural heritage and faith in Hungary. With the support of the community and continued collaboration between Orthodox Jewish organizations, it is poised to once again become a vibrant center of Jewish life.
Miklós Soltész, the State Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office responsible for church and ethnic relations, highlighted in his speech that the Jewish communities in Hungary can always rely on the government's support. "We are committed to supporting them because they are an integral part of our nation, contributing to the nation's strength and unity through their religious beliefs and communities," he stated.
Rabbi Shlomo Koves, Chief Rabbi of EMIH, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that the sense of shame can now be remedied: "We no longer need to feel ashamed of our Jewish identity. We no longer need to be burdened by the memory of a house of prayer that stood here for forty years, neglected and forgotten, with no one to remember the prayers offered within its walls."
Gábor Keszler, the President of MAOIH, underlined that the reopening of the synagogue represents an extraordinary and exemplary collaboration between the two Hungarian Orthodox Jewish communities. It serves as a testament to the unwavering commitment and determination of these communities.
"It is proof of our belief that our heritage is not a relic of the past but a vibrant, enduring force that continues to shape our lives and our future," he concluded.