Friday, August 27, 2010

Budapest Jewish summer festival celebrates its Bar Mitzvah

 Part of the festival in 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Adam Lebor in Budapest writes a nice piece in the Economist online about the annual Budapest summer Jewish culture festival celebrating its 13th edition -- its bar mitzvah, so to speak.

The festival opened last night with a magnificent concert by the Boban Markovic Orchestra, the world's best known Serbian gypsy brass band ensemble, in the Great Synagogue on Dohany Street in downtown Pest. The synagogue, which holds 3,000 people, is the centre of Jewish life in Hungary. The synagogue was built in the mid-19th century in a neo-Moorish style and has been beautifully restored to its former glory. Playing to a packed house the orchestra kicked off with a rousing rendition of "Hava Nagila", probably the best known traditional Jewish song. The thumping Balkan beat soon had even dowager grandmas clapping along. The Boban Markovic Orchestra is the latest in a long line of renowned musicians to perform here: a century ago both Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played the synagogue's organ.It was an interesting choice to open a Jewish cultural festival with a Serbian gypsy band. Partly because of their shared history of persecution, Jews and Roma often feel a kind of kinship. But despite the glorious life-affirming emotion of hearing "Hava Nagila" inside the synagogue, there was a poignant aspect to the concert, for this corner of Dohany street is a haunted place. The small Jewish cemetery behind the main hall houses the remains of perhaps 2,000 people who died of sickness and starvation during the winter of 1944-45 as the Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross ran wild and the Red army steadily advanced, until the ghetto was finally liberated in January 1945.

On Monday, the festival features a presentation of Zsido Emlekhelyek, the Hungarian edition of my book Jewish Heritage Travel. I'm due to give an illustrated talk about Jewish heritage in Europe.

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