EMIH continued its Synagogue Week with the Sólet Festival in Újbuda 

A Neokohn munkatársa

Thousands took part in the 6th Sólet Festival on Sunday at the Újbuda outdoor theater, where the new Torah scroll of the Bocskai Street Synagogue was also completed. As one of the highlights of the cultural festival, hundreds accompanied the Torah early in the evening to the nearby synagogue, which was officially inaugurated. The last time so many people were gathered there was perhaps only 85 years ago when the synagogue was first inaugurated.

The directors boldly decided to hold this year’s Sólet Festival not, as usual, in the heart of the already proven and popular Jewish quarter of Pest, on Kazinczy Street, but in Újbuda, at the outdoor theater located there. The main reason for the choice of location may have been due to the inauguration of the Bocskai Street Synagogue nearby, held also on Sunday as part of the EMIH Synagogue Week series of events. 

Fortune favors the brave! This was also proven on Sunday. 

Although it was raining all over the capital, the menacingly dark skies only surrounded the venue of the event, and not a drop of rain hindered the programs throughout the day. 

As part of the family picnic atmosphere, classes were held for families with children under the trees. And, of course, in the spirit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, people could pray after putting on Tefillin with the help of young rabbis present. Rabbi Isaac Stell himself also took part in this tradition. The head of the Bocskai Street Synagogue district was preparing for his evening task but also diligently dealing with the attendees of the festival. 

As he told us in the early afternoon, he looked forward to the transfer of the Torah scroll to the synagogue with great excitement and anticipation, and his parents had even traveled to Budapest from America for the event. They were also able to taste the various stews (sólet) — this year, as usual, the Hungarian and Israeli stews were the most popular — and maybe the cakes too, despite the long lines. 

This year’s sweetest hit was probably the kosher kürtöskalács (chimney cake) from Semes bakery. 

In addition to the culinary offerings, Ádám Móser’s klezmer concert, as well as literary and theatrical conversations organized by EMIH’s cultural foundation, Firgun, entertained the guests. By the afternoon, more and more Hasidic Jews also appeared on the scene, signaling that an important religious event was imminent. As was done on Friday before the opening of the new synagogue Pesti Stibel, at 55 Vörösmarty Street in Pest, the synagogue’s Torah scroll was completed in a public ceremony.

Deputy Mayor of Budapest Erzsébet Gy. Németh and Mayor of Újbuda Imre László also arrived for the ornate occasion. They were greeted by Shlomo Köves, the leading rabbi of EMIH, who, in front of a large audience, expressed his gratitude to the politicians for welcoming the event to Újbuda. As the rabbi emphasized, it is uplifting for him that

„as today’s event also proves, we can live freely and proudly as Jews in other districts of Budapest as well.” 

Photo: Zoltán Adrián

Both politicians shared kind words with those gathered, emphasizing in particular that “they did not come as politicians” but as people curious about the gastronomic offerings and to share their well-wishes for the upcoming Jewish holidays. Speaking about the importance of experiencing Jewish heritage, in connection with the sólet (traditional Hungarian-Jewish stew), Imre László stated that everyone should know that

„there is no Hungarian history without Jewish traditions.”

The political guests then ate stew together and watched as those chosen by Rabbi Stell, with the help of Shlomo Köves, finished the last letters of the Torah scroll at the table on stage. As is tradition, joyous dancing accompanied the ceremony, while the last letter was completed by Rabbi Stell’s father. 

Afterward, the celebrating crowd left the park theater, forming a colorful caravan, and began to march in the direction of building #37 on the adjacent Bocskai street. Along the way, a lot of people joined the procession — families with strollers, retirees and students — many of whom probably decided after the stew festival that they should see with their own eyes what a celebrating Jewish crowd in Budapest is like.

The number of singing and dancing cheerful people may have surpassed even preliminary expectations: A large crowd arrived at 37 Bocskai Street, where the last time so many people were gathered was perhaps only 85 years ago when the synagogue was first inaugurated.

Then, in 1936, it was the last great synagogue in Hungary to be inaugurated before the Holocaust, and the building became one of the most beautiful Bauhaus-style Jewish houses of worship in all of Europe. After the war, the dwindling community was unable to save its building, and the state then took it over in the 1960s. One of the last rabbis of Újbuda, László Hochberger, was an important witness of this era. 

Shlomo Köves spoke in an exalted voice to those gathered, saying that 

„with each new synagogue opened, we give another chance for others to find their way back to their Jewish faith.” According to him, “for the sake of our dignity, it is our moral duty.”

Köves recalled that 100 years ago, there were more than 200,000 Jews living in Budapest and 150 houses of worship. According to him, the fact that almost half of the original number of Jews live in the capital today but there are only 16 operating synagogues is the real inspiration for their work. It is also thanks to this that three new synagogues will now have been opened in 10 days.

At the end of his speech, the rabbi told Neokohn that preparations had already begun for the opening of houses of prayer at a few other locations in the capital on the eve of the Jewish New Year next year, that is, a year from now.

The speeches were continued by Imre László, the mayor of the district, who drew attention to the fact that with the presence of another Jewish house of prayer, “the life and strength of the Jewish community will be shown to everyone;” he also noted that the local city government had contributed happily and proudly to the building. Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, Israel’s ambassador to Budapest, also honored the event with his presence. He emphasized the significance of the history of the building, which he believes is “the embodiment of Jewish life and will to live.”

The new spiritual leader of the room, Rabbi Isaac Stell, also came up to speak. He greeted his followers in Hungarian and shared several stories; then, following the usual protocol, he expressed his gratitude with gifts to several attendees. His embrace of his parents was particularly touching.

Some then remained in the synagogue for a dinner and evening prayer, while others returned to the Újbuda outdoor theater where Alex Clare and Nissim black were set to perform. 

Both Alex Clare and Nissim Black went all out. The British-Israeli jazz singer admitted that this was the first time in the last two years he had performed in front a large crowd. He enchanted the audience with his guitar and unique voice. Then, out of nowhere, a master of the fusion of American gangster rap and Hasidic Jewish folk music burst onto the stage with a dynamic explosion.

Nissan Black, the world’s most famous black Hasidic Jewish musician gave an unforgettable performance.

A few minutes before his performance, he was still praying in the tent behind the stage. However, when he took the stage, he was on fire, performing several songs and moves. At one point, even Joshua Fuchs — the official EMIH rabbi of Miskolc — started break-dancing in front of the stage so well that even the other rabbi of Miskolc, Zsolt Markovics, would have envied him!

The last event of the EMIH Synagogue Week series will take place one day before Rosh Hashanah at ZSILIP in Újlipótváros (Újpest rkp. 1), where Budapest’s newest Jewish cultural center and synagogue under Rabbi Samuel Glitzenstein will be inaugurated. 

Alex Clare, Nissim Black to perform at EMIH’s Synagogue Week  – Neokohn