The Jewish community in Debrecen has a long history. According to written records, a few Jewish merchants came to Debrecen in the 1780s. Debrecen’s Jewish Community was officially established in 1852. The community gradually grew and developed with more synagogues, a Jewish primary and secondary school, a hospital and social welfare institutions being built.
Until the First World War, three synagogues had been built (two of which can be still visited today) so that people could practice the routines of their various religious orientations. As the German invasion reached Debrecen in the early 1940s, two Jewish ghettos were established in the middle of the city, and in three short months, the humiliation and degradation escalated into their transportation to Germany, towards labor and death camp. More than 6000 Jews never returned from the ordeal they were subjected to. By 1949, only 3000 Jews stayed in Debrecen from the registered 11.500. Survivors immigrated to Israel and the United States and several families decided to move to Budapest. Today’s Jewish community of Debrecen is less than a tenth of what it used to be before the Holocaust. But despite the drastic drop in their number, the members of the Kehila are trying their best to preserve and keep up the heritage and the traditions, and they seem to succeed beautifully. Moreover, they keep an open mind and follow the latest trends to stay up-to-date in every aspect. Not every building and institution has the same role that it used to before the war. But the change of needs and possibilities opened new horizons with regards to their utilization and gave a fresh start for the magnificent old buildings. That’s how the orthodox synagogue can be a modern event center, community area and educational venue all at once, where visitors can catch a glimpse of the history of Jews in the area. The synagogue is equally prepared to host conferences, special history classes and concerts.
The Jewish cultural heritage sights of Debrecen and Eastern Hungary can be explored on thematic trails and pilgrimage tours. The “Journey to the Jewish heritage of the Northern Great Plains” pilgrimage concentrates on Debrecen, an urbanized Jewish community, and Nagykálló, a world-famous community organized around the famous Rabbi Taub. Pilgrims traveling on the holy journey can stay at the guesthouse of the headquarters of Debrecen’s congregation. The “Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis” is a 150-km long pilgrimage route that touches 10 towns and villages as its way through the Jewish memorial sites and the architectural heritage of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region.
The Pásti Orthodox Synagogue
The synagogue’s construction started in August 1893. In a month, its main walls were standing, and the developing Orthodox community celebrated their very first new year in the new synagogue. The final touches were finished in a year’s time, but officially the church was inaugurated in 1902. The first rabbi of the orthodox Kehila was Solomon Strasszer. There were several establishments in joint operation with the status quo community, but soon the Orthodox Jews expanded their web of institutions: Beit Hamidras for Torah-learning sessions, a mikvah and a kosher butchery and shop had opened. The building was heavily damaged during WWII and the community was not able rebuild the synagogue fully but they managed to preserve it. Nevertheless, it functioned until 1984, when the last Orthodox Rabbi, Sándor Deutsch passed away.
In 2001, the roof and the street front were reconstructed, but its thorough, complete restoration started only in 2012. On 26 April 2015, the Pásti Orthodox synagogue was re-opened in its full glory, and it serves multiple purposes: it is not only a sacred space but a touristic attraction, conference center and a public venue.
In the foreseeable future, the synagogue will be the home of the Jewish Educational and Cultural Center of Central and Eastern Europe.
Beit Hamidras – the Winter Tabernacle
Built in the 1910s, the centrally heated tabernacle was hosting the regular Talmud-Torah alongside occasional meetings, bar mitzvahs and lectures. It gave new impetus to the religious and everyday life of the Orthodox community, since those who were busy working during the day all week could now come and participate in lectures after working hours and during the weekends.
Today, the Beit Hamidras is the site of the daily sermons of the community, except during the time of the big holidays.
Located in the basement of the winter tabernacle, the bath was out of use in the last 20 years due to high underground-water levels. As part of the renovation project, the ritual bath is now revitalized and will have a totally new function: it is going to host a unique kosher winery.
It is important to know that Debrecen will not remain without a traditional ritual bath, since in 2005 a modern mikvah was opened right next to the synagogue.
The Holocaust Memorial
The monumental concrete wall was designed by young aspiring architects and since the summer of 2015, it has been standing proudly to remind everybody of the little more than 6000 Holocaust victims that were from Debrecen.
As the number of Jews in Debrecen reached its peak during the first decade of the 20th century, the community found itself in need of a new synagogue. Built between 1909 and 1910, the “small” church, which is able to accommodate 600 people, continues to fill its traditional role: it serves the people as a sacred space.
Today, the recently renovated synagogue is used for religious purposes on the big Jewish holidays, but it has hosted cultural happenings of different kinds on several occasions.
The Jewish Cemetery
Since 1842, the cemetery of Debrecen’s community serves its designated purpose. The biggest achievement of the past years is the catalogue of graves which can be found on the web, where everyone can look up the signs that show the location of possible or known relatives.
The Kosher Butchery
Until the end of the 1980s, the butchery was put to use as a real meat processing unit, but today it serves as a unique exhibition space. During the renovations, the interior and some equipment were restored perfectly and it now shows the different stages of work at the butchery very well.
The synagogues and the connected attractions are open for visitors as follows. 1st May – 30th September: 8 am – 5 pm; 1st October – 30th April: 8 am – 3pm. Closed on Saturdays, on public and Jewish holidays.
Guided tours in Hungarian, English and Hebrew are available for groups upon request. To book a tour or enquire about an arranged tour, you must contact the community in advance.
The former shire-town had its first Jewish community several centuries ago, but due to several attacks on the settlement, its members frequently moved – but eventually always came back. As written records confirm, by the 18th century, a well-organized Jewish community was present in Nagykálló. In 1781, Eizik Taub was elected chief rabbi of the county. As the founder of the Hungarian Hasidic community, he was already a legend during his lifetime: one of the most respected rabbis, a real tzadik – true man. People were coming to him for answers, advice and blessings. His Spanish ancestors moved to Hungary in order to avoid the Inquisition and settled in Szerencs, in the northern region of the country. Taub studied in Nikolsburg’s yeshiva and after coming home, he became a private tutor in Nagykálló. In this serene village, he did not have much else to engage in other than his job, the Bible and nature. He was usually found among shepherds in the fields and this is where the most well-known Hungarian Jewish folk song “Szól a kakas” was born. The Rabbi heard one of the fellow shepherds singing the melody and added his words, and it spread among his people and soon became a trademark for Hasidic gatherings all over the country. Rabbi Taub passed away in 1821, at the age of 70. His grave is visited regularly, especially on the 7th of Adar, his death’s anniversary.
Today, there are only two cemeteries in Nagykálló to preserve the memory of the once great Jewish community of the village. The first is where you can find Rabbi Taub’s ohel – his tent-like grave – and a few Sephardic-style tombstones reminding us to the Rabbi’s Spanish roots. The Rabbi, by the way, drew up his epitaph himself prior to his death: “Here lies rebbe Eizik, rabbi of the sacred community of Nagykálló”. The other, still functioning cemetery has the grave of Menachem Brody, whose yeshiva was known all across Europe during the 19th century. Imre Ámos, known as the Hungarian Chagall, was born and raised in Nagykálló. The painter used several scenes of the Hasidic life and Jewish tradition in his art. He passed away while doing forced labor in WWII.
For further information please contact Gábor Blajer, +36 30 224 7349.
Debrecen Jewish Community
Tel.: +36 52 415 861, +36 30 846 1703
“Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis”
Pilgrimage During the pilgrimage pilgrims visit the gravesites of late wonder rabbis, learn about the rabbis' lives, the legends surrounding their lives, the history, traditions and regional role of the former Jewish population of the towns they visit, and get the opportunity to experience the breathtaking scenery of Tokaj-Hegyalja. The start and end point of the pilgrimage route is the Jewish Cultural Information Centre in Mád, which used to be the Rabbical school. The pilgrimage is bookable as a touristic service package that includes a guided tour of a section of the pilgrimage route. Visitors are free to choose the length of the section they would like to visit.
Route: Mád – Tarcal – Tokaj – Bodrogkeresztúr – Olaszliszka – Sárospatak – Sátoraljaújhely – Erdőbénye – Abaújszántó – Tállya – Mád