Budapest’s main grand synagogues, located in the city center on Dohány, Kazinczy and Rumbach streets, are local landmarks. But there is an ensemble of other synagogues scattered throughout the Hungarian capital, most of which are home to small — yet active — congregations.
In a series of three articles, JHE Contributor Michele Migliori explores lesser-known synagogues in Budapest.
This third, and last, article in the series explores stand-alone synagogues that are not generally known by most tourists and residents.
The first article explored five synagogues that are no longer being used as such, while the second article looked at synagogues that are hidden from view — located inside building courtyards and apartments.
STAND ALONE SYNAGOGUES
Lajos utca 163
Budapest was formed officially in 1873 when what were then three separate towns – hilly Buda, on the western side of the Danube, flat Pest on the eastern bank, and Obuda, to the north – were joined together. A Jewish community was formed in the early 18th century in Obuda, which was located on the private estate of Count Peter Zichy. (Earlier, Jews had lived in Obuda in the 15th century until the Ottoman conquest in 1526.)
Consecrated in July 1821, the Óbuda synagogue is the oldest functioning synagogue in the Hungarian capital and stands a few steps away from the Danube river on the Buda side, northwest of the city center. The neoclassical building, with Empire style decorations, was designed by Andreas von Landherr, an Óbuda resident himself. Its majestic façade is composed by six Corinthian columns under a carved surbaissé pediment, on the top of which stand the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
While the façade maintained its original aspect, the interior has changed radically over the decades. The building suffered some minor damages during World War II; it was taken over by the state in the 1950s, and in the 1980s, though it has been declared a national monument, the government totally rebuilt the interior, and it was used for years as a studio for the Hungarian State Television. In 2010, the EMIH Jewish community (affiliated to Chabad) obtained ownership of the building and rededicated it as a synagogue. EMIH carried out a fullscale restoration completed in 2016 . The bimah and the four Empire style obelisks on its angles, stand in the middle of the sanctuary, and both the ceiling and the wall behind the Ark are nicely decorated.
Frankel Leo synagogue
Frankel Leo út 49
Two kilometers south of the Óbuda synagogue, still on the Buda side of the city, stands the Frankel synagogue, named after the street where it is located. Built in 1888, according to the plans of Sándor Fellner, this neo-Gothic Neolog synagogue is almost totally surrounded by a Jewish communal and apartments complex built in the 1920s, a couple decades after the synagogue itself.
The synagogue can seat up to 400 persons. Today it hosts a lively congregation, with many young families as members. Men and women sit separated, but without the presence of a mechitzah. There are also women’s galleries, which are no longer used as such.
Páva st synagogue
Páva utca 39
In the Ferencváros district of Pest stands the Páva street synagogue, built in 1923-1924 in eclectic style and designed by the prolific synagogue architect Lipót Baumhorn. It is one of four synagogues designed by Baumhorn in Budapest (see our previous articles for the other three).
Today the synagogue forms part of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.
It long stood in poor condition and was renovated at the beginning of the 2000s, when the Memorial Center was constructed. A photograph from the 1930s helped the architects accurately reconstruct the decorative and gold paintings, as well as the plaster stucco.
The synagogue is mainly used for cultural purposes, such as concerts and exhibitions, but it is also home to a small congregation.
Berzeviczy utca 8
In a small street of the northern neighborhood of Újpest (which literally translates to “New Pest”) is located a beautiful Romantic-style synagogue, built in 1896 by Ármin Hegedűs, who followed the design plans of Henrik Böhm.
Until the 1950s, this part of the city was an independent town, founded by Isaac Lowy, a Jewish entrepreneur who owned a shoe factory in Újpest.
The synagogue is used by a Neolog congregation, and its façade features yellow and brown bricks, with two lateral towers.
The sanctuary has women’s galleries supported by slim pillars, and there is also an organ that once belonged to one of the synagogues in Kecskemét, south of Budapest.
The complex was renovated in the 1990s, and has a smaller prayer room for the winter, as well as community offices.
Thököly utca 83
The Thököly Road synagogue is located in the district of Zugló, in the western part of the city, inside a nineteenth century villa that was acquired and transformed into a sanctuary in 1930.
The villa has maintained its external features, but the presence of the synagogue is recognizable by the Ten Commandments tablets in bas-relief on the façade’s pediment, and by the stained glass window decorated with a Star of David. Additionally, menorahs are featured on the iron fences. The synagogue complex also has a spacious garden, and rooms for social events.
The synagogue can accommodate around 200 people and was recently reopened after a year of renovation works following a devastating electrical fire that gutted the interior of the building.
Lagymanyos (Bet Shalom) synagogue
Károli Gáspár square 5
In the southern part of Buda, on Gaspar square, stands the Bet Shalom synagogue, home of one of the most vibrant and active congregations of the city. The old synagogue of this neighborhood was built in 1936 in a mix of Bauhaus and romantic style. However, the synagogue was sold in the 1960s as the congregation members decreased in number, who then moved to smaller prayer house on Karoli Gaspar square: from the outside it looks more or less like a large house, with the tablets of the Ten Commandments under the peak of the roof.
In the last ten years, thanks to the efforts of the congregation’s President and Rabbi, the number of members increased from 20 to 250, which brought the congregation to enlarge the synagogue complex. Today, the complex hosts a kosher kitchen, a community hall, a classroom, a library and a large garden. The sanctuary is bare and modern, with a glass mechitzah separating the men’s and women’s sections.