A Journey through Jewish Budapest

A Journey through Jewish Budapest

A-Journey-through-Jewish-Budapest-2To grasp the dynamic experience of what Jewish culture and everyday life in Budapest meant is challenging enterprise. The term ‘Jewish Budapest’ can serve as synonym at once for anti­Jewish sentiment, upper­class lifestyle and poverty. Jewish Budapest is much more than the Jewish district and Dohány Street Synagogue that most walking tours present to visitors. Even to appreciate these standard sights, we need to consider the alternative Jewish experiences in a city where Jews number ¼ of the population before WWII and where the Jewish presence endured for 1000 years.

Major sites of this walk can include:

1. Buda Castle and Medieval Jewry

As a non­European medieval dynasty, the Árpáds, rulers of the Kingdom of Hungary between the 10th and 14thcenturies, had surprisingly tolerant attitude towards the Jews in their midst, who lived alongside the Magyars right from the time of arrival of these nomadic tribes into the Carpathian basin. From 1100 to 1200, there was continuous Jewish settlement side by side with the emergence of Buda Castle Hill as the center of political power. Archival reconstructions conducted just a few years ago can give us an exciting glimpse of remnants of the synagogue that was built here by the city’s Medieval Jewish community.

2. Óbuda Synagogue

Until 1844, a long outdated feudal legislation prevented Jews from buying property in the city of Pest or Buda, subsequently they were obliged to leave the borders of the twin cities by sunset every day. As a logical consequence, the economic and cultural wealth accumulated by Hungarian Jews centered around the third township, Óbuda (in German: Altofen). The impressive classicist synagogue, built and consecrated in 1821 was a proof of the affluence and influence of the contemporary Altofen community, and continues to be a strong early mark of the strong Jewish community that flourished in Hungary in the following decades.

Optional stopover: Frankel Leó Road Synagogue (eclectic small synagogue, one of the most active communities in post 1989 Hungary, hidden in a house courtyard, built in 1880)

3. Lipótváros/Dohány Street

After the civic emancipation of Hungary’s Jews (1868), Pest­Buda began a surprisingly swift trabsition into a unified and modern city (renamed Budapest after its official unification in 1873). The Lipótváros district emerged as the city’s new financial center, with grandiose banks, the Pest Stock Exchange. The formation of a Jewish upper­class bourgeoisie is encapsulated in the Dohány Synagogue (1859), the greatest Jewish place of worship in Europe, and the building that inspired Manhattan’s Central Syangogue.

(Optional: New York Café, once a bustling hub of Hungarian literary and fine-arts figures, many of them of Jewish origin, still operational.)

4. Király utca promenade/Teleki tér

Tours of Budapest’s Jewish history often ignore the Jewish immigrants/underclass. But in fact the majority of Budapest’s Jewish population lived the VII.­VIII. districts as a small and European­style humble lower class. A significant influx of Eastern Jewish refugees during the First World War created new centers that were very different from the opulent neighborhoods of established Hungarian Jews. We can visit small Hasidic shtibls and Sephardic­rite prayer­houses which still surround the market where peddlers, petty­ traders operated during the interwar period. Although the peculiar Jewish life of the area has mostly disappeared since WWII, the informed visitor can still get a sense of the community that once made a home here.

5. Újlipótváros/Pest Ghetto

Until 1943 Jews of Budapest were in a relatively protected position compared to Eastern European Jews in general or Hungarian Jews elsewhere. Yet in October 1944, with the rest of the city’s citizens, they endured a Soviet siege, the Nazi and Hungarian Arrow Cross mass killings, and the coldest winter of the war. Due to international diplomat’s rescue missions, and the comparably fast advance of the Soviet Army, the devastation – though terrible – was not complete. The two ghettos of Budapest in the XIII. and VII. districts offer a direct connection to the events. As an addition, the lovely neighborhood of Újlipótváros allows us to peer into the lifestyle of mostly assimilated Jewish upper middle class from the interwar and postwar periods.

Optional concluding venue: Kozma Street Jewish cemetery, a historical place that sheds more light on social and cultural preferences of Budapest Jewry than any building or memorial.

Please note that visitors to the Dohány and Kazinczy Synagogues are requested to have their shoulders and knees covered.

Andras Schweitzer Andras Schweitzer is senior lecturer at ELTE University, Budapest, focusing on contemporary political history. He holds a PhD in International Relations (2006, Corvinus University of Budapest). Besides his alma mater, he took courses on the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studied contemporary Hungarian history at the Eszterházy Károly Főiskola (Eger) and East-Central European history at the Central European University (CEU). He had worked for 17 years for HVG, Hungary’s leading political-financial-cultural weekly magazine („The Economist of Hungary”) as journalist and section editor producing and editing feature and news stories, interviews, reportage among them some award-wining ones. He covered a wide array of topics in- and outside of Hungary at conferences from Boston through Copenhagen and Nové Zámky to Seoul. His most recent articles appeared in The Guardian, in Hungarian Spectrum, in Intersections – East European Journal of Society and Politics, in The Hungarian Quarterly. He is a vice-chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society.
ZoltanZoltán Csipke was born and raised in Los Angeles. After starting his PhD in History at the University of Liverpool in 2006, he moved to Budapest in 2007 for his research, where he has lived ever since. Zoltán’s research focused specifically on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and collective memory, with a wider interest in the Cold War. He formerly lectured at Eötvös Loránd University and the Balassi Institute, having also been a senior editor at the All Hungary Media Group, where he focused on Hungarian politics and Budapest nightlife. He can frequently be found wandering the streets of Budapest with his camera as he indulges in his hobby of cityscape photography or providing impromptu history lessons at a table with friends in one of the city’s cafés or ruin pubs.
RunaRuna Hellinga is a freelance journalist, writing for Dutch newspapers. She came to Hungary in 1989 when communism was just collapsing and the century’s most exciting political, economical and social changes were unfolding. From 1994, she spent a number of years in South Africa, covering the end of Apartheid in that country for the Dutch press. In 1998 she returned to Hungary as a freelancer, and has been living in the country ever since, first in Budapest and the last couple of years in the small Baroque town of Vác. In 2008 she wrote a book about Budapest, covering the city’s history and culture, but also the social and political developments from the times of the Romans until today. Together with her husband Henk Hirs (also a journalist) she organizes themed tours, covering subjects from Jugendstil architecture and the remnants of the Turkish occupation to the communist past. As a correspondent, she can also offer a lot of insight in recent Hungarian political and cultural developments. On request, she also organizes tours around special subjects like Hungarian literature or current social issues.
HenkHenk Hirs is a Dutch radio and newspaper journalist who first came to Hungary in the summer of 1989, when the country was in the midst of pulling down the Iron Curtain. He has been reporting on its many ups and downs ever since,getting to know the people, their turbulent history, their various cultures and their impossible language in the process. Between 2006 and 2010, he was editor in chief of Business Hungary, the monthly magazine of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary. After living in Budapest for many years, in 2008 he moved with his wife, Runa (also a distinguished journalist), to the lovely little Baroque town of Vác close to the Hungarian capital. Suddenly, he got to know “the other Hungary” of gracious suburban town life. He has published several books on the country, among them a tourist guide which he updates yearly. He is also the (co-)author of various Dutch-language blogs on current events and tourism developments.
CsabaCsaba Tibor Tóth  born and raised in Szeged, acquired a distinguished interest in the history of his country quite early on, finishing his BA studies in 2010 at the University of Szeged, with a double major in history and cultural anthropology. On the cultural anthropology track, he finished a thesis on the beginnings of Hungarian Jewish Folklore in the 1890’s, then he expanded on with this topic at Central European University, where he achieved a MA with Honors in 2011. In order to study Jewish history and culture in a broader context, Csaba went through a second Masters program at the University of Southampton, UK in 2012. He currently works at Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center in as a guide and educator, while regularly blogging in Hungarian about the country’s history and daily politics.


Additional costs:

Dohány Synagogue Tickets:
Individual: 4000Ft
Students and seniors: 3000Ft

Rumbach Street Synagogue Tickets:
Individual: 500Ft
Students and seniors: 300Ft

Kazincky Street Snagogue Tickets:
Individual, students & seniors: 1000Ft
Please note that the Rumbach Synagogue is closed for renovation until October 2018 and your guide will be visiting a different site with you if you travel during that period.
Starting Location:
Cafe Synago Kavehaz, previously known as Cafe Zenit,
Dohany utca 1/A


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

Cancellation and Tipping

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