The exterior of Budapest's Central Synagogue.
(photo credit: Mya Guarnieri)
At the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, the world’s second largest Jewish house of worship, a large black plaque adorns the exterior wall of the magnificent Moorish Revival-style building commemorating the 2004 visit by then-president Moshe Katsav.
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At Rumbula, a quiet birch forest just outside the Latvian capital of Riga where about 25,000 Jews were killed and buried in mass pits by the Nazis and their allies during World War II, the scene repeats itself: A big boulder with an etched-in text honoring Katsav’s visit in 2005 is ostentatiously located at the entrance to the hallowed memorial site.
When Katsav was president between 2000 and 2007, he left a trail of commemorative plaques in countless synagogues, cemeteries and Jewish community centers around the world. Quite often these tended to be noticeably larger than those left by his predecessors and other dignitaries. Now that the former president has been convicted of rape and other sex crimes, the question arises whether such honorary signs should remain in place.
Nurit Tsur, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, told The Jerusalem Post
that ‘it is the responsibility of the communities. But if it was me, I
would not feel comfortable having a plaque or photo of a convicted
rapist up on my wall.’ Na’amat president Talia Livni said, “In many
places people will realize what has happened, and they will not be
pleased. There is nothing honorable about being found guilty of raping a
But Rabbi Slomo Koves, executive rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish
Congregation, had a different take. “I don’t think his actions or those
attributed to him should affect the institution he represented,” Koves
wrote in an e-mail. “Honorary signs in the places that he visited do not
honor him but his position as the president of the State of Israel, and
I don’t think we should remove them.”