Danube river in central Budapest 370.
(photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters)
We arrived in Budapest early in the morning for a four-day intensive tour, part
of 40 bleary-eyed members of a travel group organized by the Association of
Americans and Canadians in Israel.
Once safely on our bus, we were soon
wide awake, listening to our Israeli and Hungarian guides discuss the history of
the Jews in Budapest as they pointed out the sights. We stopped in Heroes’
Square and saw the elegant Andrassy Avenue, as well as the Opera House and the
House of Parliament. Despite spectacular development, Budapest has preserved its
old charm and magic.
One of the highlights of our second day was a visit
to the Dohany Synagogue, the third-largest in the world, which in recent years
has been renovated after tremendous damage during World War II.
the synagogue stands a metallic weeping willow tree with names of Holocaust
victims on each branch, and at the side lay mass graves of Jews killed by
Hungarians at the end of the war. Our group stood together to recite the “Av
Harahamim” prayer in memory of all of those killed. Later that afternoon, we
enjoyed a leisurely cruise on the Danube River, accompanied by amusing and
informative commentary and complimentary drinks.
The third day gave us a
glimpse of times under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when we visited Godollo to
tour the second-largest Baroque palace in the world. This majestic chateau, used
as the summer residence of Elisabeth Sisi (empress) and Francis Joseph (emperor
and Hungarian king, 1867 – 1916), offered a window into the private lives of the
family, with detailed portraits, hidden doors and luxurious décor.
afternoon was spent relaxing in the famous Gellert Thermal Baths, which
refreshed our bodies and souls. The evening concluded with a lively performance
by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, an energetic group whose authentic
costumes and great cheer were highly entertaining.
Our final day included
a bus excursion through the stunning countryside just outside Budapest, stopping
at several villages along the Danube Bend.
Unfortunately, a very
disturbing experience occurred in the village of Esztergom, once the home to 500
Jews who were deported and killed during World War II. As we approached the
front of a building to read the plaque identifying it as a former synagogue (now
used as a cultural center), we were confronted with the ugly face of modern
anti- Semitism – in the form of graffiti reading “F--- the Jews,” and a swastika
painted and etched into the front wall. During our week in Budapest we had heard
about and seen signs of hatred towards Jews in the World War II era, yet this
repulsive display of recent hatred was devastating.
Several members of
our group marched angrily into the building and articulated our disgust and
dismay to a staff member of the cultural center. She joined us outside and
expressed anger and shame at this act by fellow Hungarians. As she apologized
and hugged us, many of us were moved to tears.
We cannot end without a
few words about the delicious food we enjoyed throughout the tour. From the
private buffet breakfasts in the hotel, to the boxed lunches we received each
day on the road (eaten in a beautiful park), to the glatt kosher,
Hungarian-style fourcourse dinners, to a special treat of cappuccino and apple
strudel, we were well-fed and satiated.
Future AACI tours include Russia
in June and July, Italy in September, and China in October. For more