The grand churches and cathedrals of Europe are something to see. These beautiful structures usually dominate the landscape, mirroring the importance of religion throughout the continent’s history. Usually they are free to enter and most allow for taking photos. The thing is, the first few are magnificent and awe-inspiring. But after a few, they start to all look alike and you find yourself walking through them much faster and, if it’s raining, as a good excuse to get inside for a bit.
But thanks mostly to the evil of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, the great Synagogues of Europe have been wiped from the map, only distant memories in photos and books. Memorial plaques have now replaced the sites where these synagogues once stood. If the Jews are the chosen people, the question that usually follows is “chosen for what?” Yes, the official answer is chosen for a covenant with God, but methinks someone left out their end of the bargain. For such a small minority group, we Jews have certainly been a resilient group and as a result have been at the forefront of major changes in world history (and usually not for the better of it).
Which brings me to Budapest and the first European synagogue I’ve ever been able to visit, the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. Located just inside what was the former Budapest ghetto, the synagogue complex contains a garden and memorials, a small museum and a couple of exhibitions.
It was interesting to learn that Hungary was the first European country to enact anti-Jewish laws in the 1920s, well before Hitler came to power, and never needed to be invaded as it allied itself with Nazi Germany. Certainly, this fueled the flames of anti-semitism that wiped out 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. Today, a growing political group is once again giving rise to anti-semitism.
For a country that has consistently chosen the wrong side in conflicts in its history, one hopes they don’t ignore history yet again.