For centuries, Hungary was an important Jewish diaspora. In Hungary, there were Hassidic courts, including the Munkacz Hasidism, Sighet, Sphinka, Tash, and the Pepah Hassidim. Some of the Jewish towns are no longer part of Hungary following the 1920 Trianon Treaty, which transferred territories from Austro-Hungary to Romania and the Czech Republic. Many important and influential Admorim lived and were active in north Hungary.
This spiritual wealth was destroyed in the Holocaust, but here and there, there are remnants of buildings that testify to the glory of our common past. About 50 Chassidic courts were established within a radius of about 100 km from Debrecen, and now Debrecen is an exit point for Jewish trips that take half a day or a whole day to complete. The route is about 150 kilometers long, and crosses villages and towns with large Hasidic communities and courtyards. The tourist authorities of Hungary created a special tour called, "FOOTSTEPS OF THE WONDER RABBIS", which contains three stations, which are – the closest, the most important, and the most beautiful.
The closest: Nagykallo (Kalib)
The first Rebbe of Kalib, Rabbi Yitzhak Taub, was buried in the town of Nagykallo (Kalib), about a half hour drive from Debrecen, where he became famous for his blessings. And the most famous of which is the "Szól a kakas már", which is a folklorist song in the general Hungarian culture. The Rebbe is buried in a small cave above an impressive 'tent'. Incidentally, the text on the gravestone was written by the Rebbe himself before his death.
An advanced visit in order to open the door and the gate must be arranged. The Rebbe's yahrzeit is on the seventh of Adar, which was when hundreds and thousands of Hasidim are arriving by buses mainly from England, as well as from Israel, and the United States.
The Kalib Hasidism still exists today in both Bnei Brak and Brooklyn, headed by the Admor Menachem Mendel Taub, grandson of the great-grandson of Rabbi Yitzchak Taub of Kalib, who currently is very small and has about fifty family members. He began to open Chasidut and the Torah to many audiences, in contrast to other Admorim who preferred to close the doors and assemble in their own yard. Rabbi Menachem Mendel used to perform lectures and sermons throughout Israel. Also secular, he appeared before the IDF soldiers. He now often speaks and pleads at yeshivas of other Hasidism, as well as in Bnei Akiva yeshivas and Hesder yeshivas. One of his Shamashs told me that in the last fifty years, the rabbi was heard by about half a million Israelis.
Almost every day, Jewish tourists come to visit the Kalib and pray in the tomb of Rabbi Yitzhak to light candles, and to lay down Kvitelach. Some of them also stay there for the weekend. For their sake, the building hall of the old Yeshiva of Kalib was renovated along the street, and today serves as a "hostel" that includes bedrooms, large dining rooms, and a kosher kitchen. In this building, the Jews in the area were rounded up before they were sent on transports to be exterminated during the Holocaust. In this town, there is also another synagogue where the Rebbe prayed.
The cemetery guard told me that he was often asked to open the grave "Tent" of the Rebbe, even to gentile women. In the surrounding villages, there is a belief that the Rebbe is performing miracles even now, after his death. Non-Jewish mothers of barren young women come to pray at the tomb of the Rebbe of Kalib for help to give fruit to their daughters. The guard believes that it helps, and on several occasions, they have come back to give him a gift of thanks for the birth of a baby whose grandmother prayed in the grave for his coming into the world. There were even occasions in which he was invited to be the guest of honor at a church baptism ceremony.
The most important: Satoraljaujhely
Another popular pilgrimage site is the cemetery in the village of Aujhely, where the tomb of the first Satmar dynasty, Rabbi Moyshe Teitelbaum, can be found. Rabbi Moyshe Teitelbaum was one of the senior students of the Choze of Lublin. And, today, it is the largest Satmar Hasidic sect in the Jewish world, and is considered the richest. It is estimated that some 20,000 Hassidim are members of this group. The Hasidic Dynasties was founded by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum of the village of Sighet, who settled in the town of Satmarnemeti, which is called "Satmar" by the Jews.
Satmar Hasidim from the United States and Israel frequently visit places where their Rebbes have served in the rabbinate, and of course, their route also includes the village of Aujhely. The Satmar Hasidim in the United States renovated the tomb of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum and built a prestigious tent above it, and Judaism lovers would love to visit the tomb of one of the rabbis who has had a tremendous influence on Jewish culture.
His yahrzeit takes place during the month of Tamuz, and about 500 buses arrive from all over Europe to visit during this time. On one specific day during the month of Tamuz, the number of visitors is several times greater than the citizens in the entire village. Therefore, the organizers restrict the visit and the pilgrimage to the grave for only a few hours, and then coordinate the arrival and departure times of buses so that there will not be more than 50 buses in the area at once.
The most beautiful: MAAD
In the Tokaj borvidék, famous for its quality wines, there is the village of Maad, where about 300 Jews lived until the Holocaust. In the summer of 1942, they were all concentrated in the synagogue, where they locked for three days without food, and from there they were taken to Auschwitz. Only about 40 survived, and they all left Hungary forever. Today, there is a synagogue in Jerusalem for the ex-Maad community. The village is very much part of the recommended tour, not because of important rabbis who lived in it, but because of the renovated synagogue that is on the list of the "100 most beautiful synagogues in the world".
The synagogue of Maad was built in the 18th century on Táncsics utca in the Louis XVI style. This synagogue has been desolate since the Holocaust, unlike other abandoned synagogues in Europe that have become warehouses or local clubs. The synagogue was renovated and reconstructed, and opened to the public last summer. Today, he is admirable in his splendor, arousing thoughts of the cultural and physical wealth of local Jews before the Holocaust. The walls and ceilings are painted with magnificent frescoes, and the Aron-Kodesh was reconstructed with stunning carvings, and painted in the style of the beginning of the last century.
Above: The interior of the synagogue. Below: the Holy Ark and sections of the painted ceiling
Behind the synagogue, there is a yeshiva and a Beit Midrash study hall. This building has also been renovated, and is now used mainly as a museum of Judaism, to which non-Jewish students from all over the region come as part of their curriculum. For Jewish visitors who have family roots in Maad or in the surrounding villages, a computer is set up with details of almost all the local Jews, in which homes they lived in, and the precise location of each grave they reside in.
The Rosh Yeshiva's office has also been renovated and restored. It contains books written by rabbis who are also buried there, such as the book, "Kol Aryeh" by Rabbi Avraham Hacohen, and the book "Levush Mordechai", by Rabbi Mordechai Leib Winkler. These books were recently published in a new edition in the United States by the offspring of former Jewish villagers.
I had a very exciting experience sitting there right at Rabbi Winkler's desk, trying to learn a chapter from the book he had written on the very table I was sitting at. It was an especially empowering and unforgettable experience. And, I recommend it to anyone who prepares to visit Maad to buy in advance one of the books that has been composed here, and to read aloud one or two pages in them.
Top: The book "Kol Aryeh" in an original edition and a new edition. Below: The book "Levush Mordechai"
In recent years, about 10,000 Hassidim are arriving at the end of April in honor of yahrzeit for Rabbi Sheiyele Steiner.
There is also a kosher kitchen and dining room for Jewish tourists who bring their own food, and want to warm it up and eat in non-plastic plates. The building has also allocated several rooms for double occupancy and hostel rooms with 16 beds for students on an organized trip. Rooms at this hotel are furnished in the style of the beginning of the last century. A bed for the night costs only $15 per night. And of course, every weekend, the hostel is full.
The director of the restoration project is Mrs. Marianne Frank, from the "Following the wonders Rabbis footsteps" organization. During this period, they are also working on a project to restore kosher winery and mikveh in the village of Maad.
Nearby is the well-tended Jewish cemetery. Anyone can visit the tombstones of the village rabbis Avraham Schwartz and Mordechai Winkler.
More Jewish sites
The rabbi of Debrecen, Rabbi Asher Ehrenfeld, told me that in addition to the three sites recommended by the Debrecen municipality, there are other Jewish sites within an hour and a half drive from Debrecen, but are less popular. Many Jewish people are coming on a "roots trip" to see where their grandparents lived, where they prayed, and where they were buried. But it seems that many Jewish and Israeli tourists are also interested about the existence of these sites.
Here are other Jewish sites that I recommend to those who have time to explore the area:
The second most important Jewish site (after Satoraljaujhely) is the small village of Ujfeherto, which to my surprise, is not on the list of recommendations of the Hungarian Ministry of Tourism. In Israel, this village is better known by its name in Yiddish, "Rázpért". It received world fame thanks to Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Halberstam, son of the founder of the Tzans Hasidism. Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Halberstam served as the village rabbi and founded the dynasty, but the glorious community was destroyed in the Holocaust, and its buildings were also destroyed.
Today, the Tzanz Hasidic dynasty yard is very large with tens of thousands of members, most of them in Israel. There are also Tzanz Hasidim groups in England, Belgium, and in the USA where the descendants of the Admor of Ratzafet established many Beit Midrash and courtyards in Williamsburg, New York, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Cleveland, and Montreal. All of these independent courts have a family connection to Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Halberstam, and their followers visit the town where he served as rabbi, as well as pray and light candles in the local cemetery. Most people who were buried there were followers of the Tzanz. Jewish tourists who have affection for the world of Hasidism also visit the village where the great Admor worked.
Do not look for the grave of Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Halberstam, because he was murdered and cremated in the Birkenau extermination camp, and was not buried. Many Jews are buried in the cemetery in the village of Ratzfert. The most important among them is Rabbi Herzka Halevi Zilberman, a disciple of Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz. He built a separate Hasidic court in Ratzfert, parallel to the courtyard of Rabbi Shalom Eliezer. The courtyards have no connection to the Rebbe of Tzanz. His descendants cultivated and kept the cemetery, and they bought a house nearby, for those who came to the tombs of the forefathers, and built a Mikve.
In the district of Tokaj, about a 15 minute drive from the village of Maad, the village of Olaszliszka was founded, where the Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Friedman served as rabbi who was a major student of a disciple of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum. After his rabbi's death, they begged him to take command. Tzadikim, among them Rabbi Meir of Parmeshalan and the Ruzhyner Rabbi, began to serve as Rebbe of Liska. He was a genius in the Torah, and he is quoted in Sheila (Shu"t) books of many other important rabbis. He wrote the book "Ach Pri Tevuha" with Hidushim on the Torah, and the book "Hayashar VeHatov", with sermons and eulogies. From the most important Hasidic centers in the world at the beginning of the previous century, as well as masses of Hasidim and common people all came to observe his holy service, and his name became known as a Tzadik who decrees and God fulfills His words. He worked very hard to spread the springs of Hasidism, and in his influence the Hasidim grew in Hungary.
About 400 Jews lived in the village of Olaszliszka, and most of them made their living from a wine business prepared by Italian methods. The village was named Olaszliszka, because "Olsh" means "Italy" in Hungarian. And since, all the Jews in the village were sent to Auschwitz, and the Great Synagogue in the village was abandoned and eventually destroyed, The United Jewish Communities in Hungary renovated the site of the synagogue, which serves as a monument to the victims of the Holocaust.
The reconstructions did not rebuild the walls or erect a new roof, as they only cleaned and reinforced the remaining walls. On the entrance wall, they drew a map with the names of the towns in the Tokaj district where there were several Jewish communities. On the inner side of the entrance wall are the names of 63 Jewish families who were deported from the village of Olaszliszka during the Holocaust and taken to the death camps.
In the eastern wall, in place of the curtain on the Ark, a stone inscribed in Hebrew and Hungarian said: "And Moses wrote this Torah and gave to the priests the sons of Levi who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD and all the elders of Israel. And now write this song to you, and teach the children of Israel to speak in their mouths, so that this song may be for me forever in the children of Israel. "
In addition, on the floor of the synagogue, where the Bimah was to be read in the Torah, they erected a stone platform. At night, the place is illuminated by dim lighting from the bottom up, in a way that awakens much awe and respect.
The site is spectacular in its artistic beauty. Opened to the public last summer. (Photo: Andre Meyer).
The Jewish cemetery in Liska is well-maintained compared to most Jewish cemeteries in towns and villages that don’t have Jewish residents. The Satmar Hasidim in the United States renewed the tombstone of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Friedman and built a tent over his grave, which is frequented by Jews from all over the world, especially in his yahrzeit on the 14th of Av.
Rabbi Friedman's grave in front and back
The next project from Marianne Frank and the "Following the Wonders Rabbis" will be the renovation of the mikveh in the village of Erdbbénye in the Tokaj district. This village also previously had a small Jewish community, which was destroyed in the Holocaust. Today, there are no Jews in the village. The mikveh in this village is unique because it was built over a river's stream. When the renovation is complete, this site will also serve as a monument to the Jewish community as well as the victims of the Holocaust.
The ruined building was the village mikveh. Looking outside and inside
Rabbi Shiyale of Kerstir the rebuilt rebbe's home the gravestone on his grave
One of the leaders of Hungary was Rabbi Shayla (Yeshayahu) Steiner, the founder of the Chassidic sect of Kerestir. He served as the trustee of the home of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch of Liska, and the disciple of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Tzanz. After the death of his teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch, he became famous and many Hassidim came to him. His grandson, Rabbi Rubin of America, renovated his grandfather's grave and built a huge tent there, and also at a mikveh nearby. Rabbi Rubin also purchased the residence of his grandfather, the Admor, and another house next to him, and established a synagogue for Jews coming to stay there every Shabbat.
In addition to the Jewish sites that I have reviewed above, there are other places that were centers of Jewish culture in and around the city of Debrecen. At most of them, there's something unique and interesting to see. Usually, a small cemetery where family members have cultivated and renovated the graves of their forefathers, paying a local gardener regularly to cultivate the grave and its surroundings, and sometimes the whole entire cemetery.
How do you get to these sites?
- The cheapest – Public transportation, but it is not recommended for those who do not speak Hungarian. Most of the villagers in and around Debrecen do not speak English or any other language but Hungarian.
- The most expensive – Hire a taxi for the day.
- The most convenient – Hire a Yiddish-speaking driver from the Jewish community in Debrecen. In the community building in Debrecen, there are pensioners who Rabbi Ehrenfeld guided where the graves of the righteous are, and they are willing to transport Jewish tourists to any Jewish site. It is advisable to order a driver two weeks in advance. The fee is lower for hiring a driver than for renting a taxi for the whole day.
- You can also rent a car. At the Jewish community offices, you can get guidance and precise reference for how to navigate, which can be inserted into the GPS, which will lead you exactly to the desired location or grave you are interested in going to.