Work is under way to reclaim and restore the long-abandoned old mikveh in Erdőbénye, a quaint village in the Tokaj wine region of northeastern Hungary whose Jewish community perished in the Shoah. Its private owner wants to restore it both as a functioning ritual bath and — possibly — as a Jewish information center.
Jews settled in Erdőbénye in the early 18th century and became deeply involved in the wine trade. The village synagogue was destroyed, but the walled Jewish cemetery still exists.
The date of the mikveh, a stand-alone building near a small stream, is unknown but it is believed to have been built in the early 19th century. As late as last October, when JHE Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber visited the village, the mikveh stood partially ruined and largely overgrown by vegetation.
Mariann Frank, who directs the “Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis” Jewish tourism and educational center in nearby Mád, reports that the structure was purchased by the Jewish actor, pharmacist and body-builder György Gödény, from Nyíregyháza, who by early February had had the building cleared, inside and out, and installed a new roof.
Part of the funding to stabilize the building came from a grant obtained by the Chabad-associated EMIH Jewish community, based in Budapest, but Gödény (whose photos show him with a long black beard and a tattoo on his arm that looks like a tefillin strap) is covering the rest. (EMIH funded the creation of the Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis hub.)
Frank said Gödény hopes also to purchase other houses in the village to use as accommodation for religious Jews who come to this part of Hungary to visit the graves of noted rabbis.
In the region there are the tombs of several Hasidic “wonder rabbis” whose burial places in local Jewish cemeteries have long been sites of pilgrimage for their religious followers. These include the cemeteries in Olaszliszka, Mád, Bodrodkerestur, and (a bit further afield) Nagykallo and Satroaljaujhely.
The Erdőbénye cemetery, with perhaps several hundred gravestones, is believed to date from the 18th century. Some of its stones bear traces of color. It has undergone some recent renovation (of its wall) with EU and government funding, but while much of it was cleared, in October parts of it remained heavily overgrown with vegetation.