The scaffolding is down from the Moorish-style Rumbach St. synagogue in Budapest, and work is rapidly progressing on its restoration, including the conversion of its building complex into a multi-purpose arts, culture, and education center that is slated to open next year. The 3.2 billion Forint (€10 million) costs are fully funded by the state.
JHE Director Ruth Ellen Gruber was given a tour of the building by Henriett Kiss, the vice president of the umbrella MAZSIHISZ Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, who is overseeing the project for Mazsihisz.
Kiss later described the Rumbach project in a round-table on Jewish heritage projects in Hungary, chaired by Gruber, which took place this week during the annual conference of the AEJM Association of European Jewish Museums.
The synagogue, dating from 1872 and an early work by the noted Vienna architect Otto Wagner, has long stood in a semi-derelict state following partial reconstruction in the late 1980s/early 1990s that was left unfinished for lack of funds.
To date, the exterior of the building and the interior of the octagonal sanctuary are nearing completion. Work continues on the women’s gallery — where an exhibition about Otto Wagner and the synagogue will be mounted. The interior work entails a complete rebuilding and/or replacement of both structural and decorative elements, including the wall paintings and wood-paneled ceiling, and also rebuilding the destroyed ark in its original place, using plaster, glass, and gold.
The floor will be returned to its original decorative paving after the installation of underfloor heating.
The sanctuary will be used for concerts and other events — but a moveable Bimah will enable it to be used for religious services.
The Bimah, already installed, will sink into the floor when not in use.
Significantly, Kiss said, the synagogue will not be associated with any one rabbi, but will be able to be used by various local rabbis and also by visiting Jewish groups who wish to hold services.
The other spaces of the synagogue building complex are being refurbished and converted for use as a multi-function center.
A permanent exhibition will tell the story of Hungarian Jews through the story of one extended family — the Pulitzers (Politzers).
Other components will include a large (kosher) cafe that will hark back to the Jewish cafe society of Budapest and will include interactive features that allow guests to learn about various aspects of Jewish life.
There will also be office space for various Jewish and civic associations and organizations, as well as conference facilities and a variety of educational and other programs including teacher training. One large space on an upper floor will be used as a contemporary art gallery.
Kiss said that when discussing Jews in Hungarian society, there will be no “Jews” versus ‘”Hungarian” distinctions, but rather “Jewish” and “non-Jewish”, underscoring that Jews were (and are) also Hungarian and part of Hungarian society.