Budapest divided by Danube river
Budapest divided by Danube riverFlash 90

Nestled in what used to be the Jewish ghetto in Budapest, the Rumbach Street Synagogue will reopen for public education and use, many decades after the historic building was destroyed by the Nazis during their occupation of Hungary in the 1940s.

World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder joined MAZSIHISZ, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities and the Hungarian affiliate of the WJC, to celebrate the reopening of the synagogue, originally built in 1872 to serve Hungarian Jews in the eastern part of Budapest.

The celebration came immediately before a meeting between Amb. Lauder and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, during which Lauder personally thanked Orban for the Hungarian government’s financial support of the renovation and restoration of the synagogue building. The building is also the new home of the WJC’s Hungary office.

"Without this synagogue, I would not be here,” Lauder said. “My grandparents moved to Budapest to get married and had their wedding in the very space we are currently celebrating. They eventually moved to Vienna, and then to New York as anti-Semitism grew throughout Hungary. And if they did not make that move, I wouldn’t be here today, let alone part of this historic celebration commemorating a very positive step forward for Hungary’s Jewish community.”

As he made remarks, Lauder displayed a stone that was part of the original Rumbach synagogue, which he has carried throughout his travels as WJC president. It was passed down by his grandparents to his mother, and then to him. He shared how that stone has represented a symbol of good luck as the WJC works to combat the rise in anti-Semitism around the world.

The synagogue building’s renovation was made possible thanks to a 3.2 billion Hungarian forint ($11,254.53 USD) grant from the Hungarian government, disbursed through a series of payments to recognize the fact that more than half of the Hungarian Jewish community, representing nearly 450,000 people, were murdered in the Holocaust. Due to the decimation of Hungary’s Jewish population, the congregation and its physical space were never fully restored after World War II. Now complete, the modern-era renovation will help support and revitalize the largest Jewish population in East Central Europe.

During his meeting with Prime Minister Orban, Lauder praised the government’s support for the Jewish community, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its support to health, social, and cultural institutions that improve the quality of life for Hungarian Jewry.

The two leaders discussed the need to uphold and strengthen the defense of Hungary’s Jewish Community MAZSIHISZ, which has become a thriving and vital part of Hungarian society.

Lauder also thanked Prime Minister Orban for his recent visit to Israel and his ongoing support for the Jewish state on the international floor.

Hungarian Minister Katalin Novak also took part in the meeting. Amb. Lauder was accompanied by WJC Executive Vice President Maram Stern.

To open the ceremony at the synagogue, Lauder, who supports Jewish schools and access to Jewish education across Europe through the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, joined Ráchel Nagy Kramer, a student at the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School in Budapest, Hungary’s Minister of Families Katalin Novák and the synagogue’s architect, Tamás Kőnig, to place three mezuzot on the synagogue’s doorpost. The Lauder Javne Jewish Community School, kindergarten and music school was opened in 1990, in response to new developments and opportunities in Hungarian society marking the revitalization of Jewry in Central Europe.

The reopening celebration also included a commemorative march around the Jewish neighborhood as community members danced with Torah scrolls, and a religious ceremony to place the Torah scrolls back in the ark and light the eternal candles. The chief rabbi of Hungary, Robert Frölich, and Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, also participated in today’s gathering.

The synagogue building will now serve as an open synagogue, welcoming those representing all branches of Judaism with a moveable Bimah. The space will also host concerts and other events, serving as a space to educate all visitors about Jewish life.

President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Hungary, András Heisler, added: “Rumbach should be a space open for everyone regardless of if they are Jewish or not, regardless if they have Jewish relatives or friends, if they are foreigners crossing through town, if they are poor people or students. The space should be a house of coexistence. This building will not be a synagogue for just one type of community. It will be open for all Jewish communities living in Budapest and visitors that arrive in our city.”

“The stones of Rumbach witnessed the history from the Jewish golden age when we thrived in Hungary in the early part of the 20th century, through the horrors of the Holocaust and throughout the years when the sacred building was ruined until its recent renovation. Here, stones and people are breathing together.”