Every year, the old Jewish quarter in the Hungarian Budapest comes to life with the Jewish Summer Festival, that celebrates Jewish culture, traditions, music and food.
This 17th edition marked the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust.
Inside the Rubach street synagogue, dating back to the 19th century, Jews were assembled and deported to Ukraine in 1941. An exhibition was organised to pay tribute to the victims.
“We asked rabbis, bishops, and theologist to write a short prayer under the title “After Auschwitz”. We gave these prayers to contemporary artists as inspiration. Their works show how religions and nations can collaborate together,” said Adam Galambos, theologist and curator of the exhibition.
During the festival, events centre around the city’s famous Dohany street synagogue in the heart of the old Jewish quarter. It is the largest and considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. The streets in the old Jewish district were once noisy with merchants. Jews and Christians lived side by side. But after the Second World War the district slowly declined. In recent years, however, it has experienced a revival and its old, dilapidated buildings have been turned into hipster restaurants and cafés, the aptly named "ruin-pubs".
Every year, the famous Budapest Klezmer Band performs inside the synagogue.
“Thousands of people turn up for the concert,” said the band’s founder, Ferenc Javori. “Jews and non-Jews alike wear the kippah and share this treasure of Jewish culture, and everyone goes back home richer from the experience.”
After the concerts, exhibitions and shows, festival goers are invited to take a bite of authentic Jewish culture, by tasting traditional dishes and sweets specially prepared for the event.
The daughter of a rabbi, Rachel Ray is said to make the best Jewish cakes in town. The flodni is her star attraction:
“The flodni is a traditional Hungarian Jewish cake, typically baked for Jewish holidays. I always say that that in a Flodnie, you find the soul of Yiddish mummies. It’s made of all the best ingredients: layers of poppy seeds, apples, walnuts and plum-jam,” she said.
The Jewish Summer Festival is an added attraction for visitors to the Hungarian capital, which is already a popular European tourist destination.
For some, it’s a chance to come and learn more about their Jewish heritage: “I am really excited that a Jewish festival is going on, my family’s name has Jewish history so it’s really neat to be here and see part of the culture that goes along with part of my family,” said one American visitor.
“I had wanted to come for years, and my husband surprised me with a ticket,” said a Hungarian tourist.
World famous conductor Stanley Sperber conducts the reputed Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, which attended this year’s festival: “For us it’s a terrific honour to be here. We’ve heard about this festival for so many years. Thanks to George Adam, who is the father of one of the singers of the choir, he made connection to the festival and he got us invited,” he said.
According to the festival’s director, Vera Vadas, it’s an event which has grown massively over the years: “When the festival first started, it was difficult to advertise it. The word Jewish had a derogatory connotation. But the Jewish Summer Festival has changed all that, now it’s an asset, drawing people to learn more about this wonderful culture,” she said.