The Pest Jews, who commissioned this synagogue, were really into the idea of assimilating with the Christian majority of Budapest. They had this synagogue designed to resemble a Christian basilica with the altar at the front of the church – synagogues are traditionally designed with the altar in the middle of a square with everyone facing inwards. This synagogue practices Neolog Judaism which was a reformation sect in the 19th century. As such, women and men are still segregated during services. When the Great Hall is at capacity, women are seated in the upper galleries and the men are on the ground floor. Otherwise, women are seated along the outside seats and men in the middle.
Sadly, they don’t use the Great Hall for very many services as it is so massive and expensive to heat. They only use it for the Jewish high holidays. For normal services, they use the Hero’s Synagogue. The stained glass was completed by a survivor of the Holocaust. There is a grey snake that spans from the top right to the bottom left and it is being consumed by fire. The gravesite is in memory of the people who helped the Jews in Budapest. There are also pillar-like stones that list the names of the Righteous Among Nations that surround the gravesite.I don’t know if you noticed, but the Jews leave stones at memorial sites instead of flowers. The tour guide said it was just the custom of the people. I think it has to do with the permanence of a stone – it cannot die like a flower. Just as remembrance of someone will not die.
The willow tree is an art piece that commemorate Hungarian Jews who were deported or murdered during World War 2. Each leaf on the tree has the name of someone who was killed or the family members that donated money for the tree. The top of this monument is designed to remember the people who were lined up and executed by the Nazis and their Hungarian counterpart, the Arrow Cross. The Dohány Street Synagogue was the epicenter of the Jewish ghetto of Budapest. Between the Great Hall and the Hero’s Synagogue there used to be a pool for the people to reflect upon life and the teachings of the Torah. As part of Hitler’s “Final Solution”, over two thousand Jews were buried where the reflection pool once stood. Many of them have been identified and name plaques have been made in rememberance; however, quite a few are still unidentified and have blank name plaques in their stead. With entrance to the Synagogue complex, you also are given entry into the museum in the complex. You can opt for a guided tour of the museum which might be helpful if you don’t know much about Judaism.
The Synagogue offers guided tours in like 6 languages everyday and the tickets are very reasonably priced. Our tour guide was very informed and well-spoken. He also explained many things about Judaism that we didn’t know or understand. Also, the Great Hall is absolutely stunning. Being able to see that was well enough worth the ticket price.