At the beginning of December, a nearly 3,000 people packed Budapest’s majestic Dohany St. synagogue — the largest synagogue in Europe — for a concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) and guest artist Daniel Barenboim. The concert included works by Gustav Mahler, Sergei Prokofiev and Beethoven’s piano concerto No.3 with Barenboim as the soloist.
The aim at was to raise funds to allow the BFO to continue its series of concerts in disused, abandoned, or neglected synagogues in small towns and villages around the country.
As we have reported, the BFO began the series in 2014, working with the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), which is associated with Chabad. Chabad Rabbi Slomó Köves addresses the audiences at each concert and explains Jewish traditions, history and practice. Mazsihisz, the main Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, is also a sponsor.
The orchestra hopes to play in all the synagogue buildings still standing in Hungary.
Synagogues still stand in many of the villages and small towns we’ve visited, even though they’ve not had Jewish inhabitants for a long time. Some have been beautifully restored, others are in ruins or have been turned into furniture shops or a gym. We have always received a warm welcome and encountered many moving memories. One concertgoer arrived from a distant continent after having heard that a concert will be held in her old home town’s synagogue. In one village, it was the first time since the war that people filled the benches. Other synagogues have no benches at all, no Torah ark, and no glass in the windows.
The aim is to combat prejudice and promote interfaith and intercultural understanding.
What’s our purpose? We would like to reduce prejudice and tell the story of how Christians and Jews used to coexist peacefully here; their children attended the same schools and neighbours would greet one another.
One of the synagogues it has played is that in Kisvarda, in northeastern Hungary, long used as a museum.