For the first time since World War II, the Hungarian city of Debrecen held an ordination ceremony for an Orthodox rabbi.
Rabbi Shmuel Faigen was installed as head of the local Jewish community and will also serve as rabbi of the EMIH-Hungarian Jewish Association and Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The historic ceremony took place on Wednesday at the Pásti Street Synagogue and was followed by the official opening of the Jewish House, a new center for religious and cultural programs, featuring Debrecen’s first kosher restaurant.
Speaking at the ceremony, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Köves, of the EMIH-Hungarian Jewish Association, recognized the local Jewish community for its cooperation, which led to the city’s first Orthodox rabbinic ordination in nearly 80 years.
He thanked Debrecen’s Jewish community president Tamás Horovitz for “putting aside differences and keeping the unity and future of the Jewish community in mind.” He also thanked Debrecen’s local administration for supporting the development of the Jewish community within the city.
“Jews live throughout Hungary – not only in Budapest – and our goal is not to rest until every Hungarian Jew is given the opportunity to return to, and appreciate, the faith of their ancestors,” Koves added.
Speaking at the ceremony, Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau referred to the Holocaust memorial plaque next to the synagogue and the importance of remembering those who were left alone in the face of evil 80 years ago.
’’On behalf of the Israeli Rabbinate, I wish to acknowledge the unprecedented renaissance of the Hungarian Jewish community. I have been to Hungary four times in the past 10 years, and each time I see more and more synagogues opening, and more people going to Jewish schools and synagogues.”Rabbi David Lau
Representing the government was Hungary’s Deputy Secretary of State for Church and Ethnic Relations Zoltán Fürjes. While he declared the government’s ongoing support of the community, he pointed out that in order to have such a lively and active community as the one in Debrecen, leaders like Rabbi Faigen and his wife “were essential.”
The Debrecen Jewish House
The ordination ceremony was followed by the festive opening of the Debrecen Jewish House, located at 5-7 Piac Utca.
In addition to acting as a center for religious, cultural and educational programs, it is the new home of the Debrecen’s first quality kosher restaurant, Hamsza.
“The city of Debrecen functions because of its citizens, such as those in the local Jewish community,” said Debrecen Deputy Mayor István Puskás, who confirmed that he had already enjoyed a tasty meal at the restaurant.
The events in Debrecen closed this year’s Synagogue Week, sponsored by EMIH, which opened on August 28 in Budapest with the traditional Cholent Festival and other Jewish musical and cultural programs around Hungary.
Rabbi Faigen was born in Kfar Chabad in Israel. In 2010, Faigen and his wife opened a permanent Chabad house in Debrecen, which is currently used by hundreds of students studying there. Their cooperation with the local Jewish community led to its decision to elect him community rabbi in 2019, which culminated in his inauguration this week. Faigen and his wife have five children.