Normafa and Neology

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Normafa_-_panoramio_-_Kaszás_Tibor

CopyrighKaszás Tibor

Normafa is a hiking, picnicking, skiing, and lookout area at the top of Széchenyi Hill, in District XII (Hegyvidék) of Budapest, on the hilly Buda side. It’s accessible by the Cog Railway (launched 24 June 1874) and the Children’s Railway (launched 1950). Normafa is close to János-Hegy (János Hill), the highest point in Budapest.

Normafa takes its name from the Norma tree (originally called a storm beech, viharbükk), said to have been planted by King Mátyás Corvinus in the 15th century. After the Hungarian National Theatre performed Vicenzo Bellini’s two-act opera Norma there in 1840, the new name originated, and stuck.

Sadly, the namesake tree no longer stands. It survived many terrible storms, but in 1927, it was destroyed by lightning.

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Copyright Kispados at Hungarian Wikipedia

The area fell into disrepair due to more daytrippers than infrastructure could accommodate. There weren’t enough rubbish bins or benches, and many exposed roots and slippery leaves caused accidents.

Revamping took five years, and added many new paths, more secure gravel paving, replacement of soil with natural rock from the hill, easy-to-read maps, relaxation areas, lots of new and improved benches, 16 rubbish bins, and an upgraded playground.

Other new additions are an outdoor gym, a 4.5-km. running track, drinking fountains, a baby-changing room, bathrooms, bike-parking, and a cross-country skiing and biking track.

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Source FOTO:Fortepan — ID 02787

My characters hike up to Normafa for a daytrip during Sukkot 1945, with a large picnic lunch. Csilla suspects Mrs. Goldmark let the holiday lunches on Saturday and Sunday drag on so long on purpose. Mrs. Goldmark has to be at work on Monday, so there are less buffers between Csilla and Mrs. Goldmark’s older son Imre, whom she’s trying to set up. Imre has also been getting increasingly flirtatious.

Csilla gets drunk on Tokaji Aszú wine and strawberry liqueur, liquid courage for getting physical with the sexually experienced Imre in a secluded spot in the forest. She’s insulted when Imre says he’s not doing anything with a drunk, but after she explains her reasoning, he agrees to treat her to a sensual experience. This is the first time the very tomboyish Csilla has ever done anything with a man.

Unfortunately, as Imre rounds third base, Csilla has an intense flashback to being tortured by a gendarme last June, and her friends come upon the scene and think Imre’s trying to rape her. On the last day of Sukkot, Imre has his sister Júlia deliver a love letter to smooth things over.

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Neolog synagogue of Subotica, Serbia, Copyright Dickelbers

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Neolog synagogue of Trenčin, Slovakia, Copyright Martin Hlauka (Pescan)

Neology is a denomination unique to Hungary and some nearby areas. Many people inaccurately call it the Hungarian equivalent of Reform Judaism, though it’s more like liberal Modern Orthodoxy, or very, very old-school Conservative Judaism.

Neology began as a mild reform movement in the 19th century, among those segments of society more inclined towards integration during the Era of Emancipation. People were throwing off their symbolic chains, moving out of ghettoes, acculturating to wider society, becoming full, equal citizens of their host countries. In 1867, Austria–Hungary granted legal equality.

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Neolog synagogue of Szeged, Copyright Somorjai Ferenc

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Fabric New Synagogue of Timişoara, Romania, Copyright Gratziela Ciortuz

The first Neolog rabbis were very influenced by Zecharias Frankel’s Positive–Historical Judaism, from whence the Conservative Movement evolved. This rift solidified following the schism of the 1868–69 Hungarian Jewish Congress. There was a lot of bad blood between Neology and Orthodoxy, each thinking they represented real, relevant, modern Judaism.

To make matters even more complicated, there arose another unique Hungarian denomination, Status Quo Ante. This was also a mild reform movement of sorts.

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Neolog synagogue of Oradea, Romania (formerly Nagyvárad, Hungary), Copyright Andrei kokelburg

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Neolog synagogue of Braşov, Romania, Copyright Mark Ahsmann

Neology has separate seating for the sexes (generally with an open-air women’s gallery or more relaxed mechitza) and liturgy essentially identical to Orthodoxy. Men are required to cover their heads, Gentiles play organs on the Sabbath, intermarriage isn’t allowed, there’s no confirmation for teenagers, and traditional kosher is kept.

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Neolog synagogue in Cluj–Napoca, Romania, Copyright Ana Maria Catalina

Today, Neology is the majority denomination in Hungary. All my native Hungarian characters have Neolog origins, though Eszter’s family leaned more towards Orthodoxy. Since Abony only had a Neolog synagogue, they had no choice.

Erzsébetváros

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Erzsébetváros coat of arms, Copyright Fekist. “Queen Elizabeth took the name of our district 125 years ago. The anniversary was stated by Erzsébetváros Municipality.”

Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town) is the more formal name of District VII of Budapest. It’s on the Pest side, in the heart of downtown. The inner half was historically the Jewish quarter. During the German occupation of 1944–45, several of its streets formed part of the Budapest Ghetto. This part of the ghetto was the large ghetto, for people without protective papers enabling them to live in protected Yellow Star Houses.

In addition to the beautiful Dohány Utca Synagogue, Erzsébetváros is also home to the Rumbach Utca Synagogue (Status Quo Ante) and the Kazinczy Utca Synagogue (Orthodox). They’re all within the same couple of blocks. Non-Jewish landmarks include New York Palace, Gozsdu Udvar, Magyar Theatre, and a former tram depot.

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New York Palace, Copyright Mark Ahsmann

The New York Palace opened 23 October 1894 on Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút), and is home to the New York Café, which was frequented by the élite of the Hungarian literary world. It was built by the New York Life Insurance Company as a Budapest office. Predictably, it was damaged during WWII, and closed under Soviet occupation. It’s now a luxury hotel under the management of Italy’s Boscolo hotel chain.

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Magyar Theatre, 1897

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Szent Erzsébet Church, Copyright cseharon, Source Indafotó

From about 1900 to 1970, Erzsébetváros was very densely populated, with many working-class inhabitants and immigrants. The population has been on a sharp decline since 1970, though like many downtown areas the world over, it’s begun a process of gentrification. Hipsters love it. When historically working-class neighbourhoods are gentrified and hipsterised like this, it really screws over the people who lived there before it was hip and cleaned-up. They can’t afford the raised rent and general price of living.

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Kazinczy Utca Synagogue, Copyright Diana, Source FlickrSynagogue

Another landmark of interest is the Klauzál Air Market Hall, which was built in 1897. This shopping plaza offered over 300 shops and kiosks at its height. Though it was in the Jewish quarter, there was also non-kosher food sold. In 2014–15, it was refurbished, and is open seven days a week, from 7 AM to 10 PM.

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Copyright 12akd

Gozsdu Udvar (Courtyard) is a complex of seven buildings and six interconnected courtyards, built in 1902. It once was home to many Jewish shops and small synagogues, like a small city within a huge city. Though the character of the complex has changed, it’s still a bustling place. It contains many shops, cafés, restaurants, and bars. There are also regular art shows, fairs, and concerts, as well as a weekly Saturday vintage and craft market.

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Copyright Globetrotter19

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University of Veterinary Science, Copyright Thaler

My characters Eszter Kovács and Jákob Gerber spend a long weekend in Erzsébetváros in July 1945, lodging at an abandoned house the Soviets gave to survivors. They’re trying to find information about Eszter’s two oldest sisters, Rebeka and Lea, who went to Budapest with false papers and disguised as Christian peasants shortly after the German occupation in March 1944.

While strolling along Dohány Utca, they run across a woman who lived with Rebeka and Lea in the ghetto. Initially, this woman was unnamed and only appeared for this one scene, but when I took this book out of hiatus, I named her Mrs. Goldmark and made her into an important secondary character. When Eszter and her friends move to Budapest in early September 1945, Mrs. Goldmark treats them like her own children, hosts them for holiday meals and birthdays, and arranges day trips and picnics.

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Former Israelite Deaf-Mute Institute, Copyright Attila Terbócs, Source Pasztilla

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Former Arcade Bazaar, Copyright Globetrotter19

Dohány Utca Synagogue

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Copyright Maciej Podstolski

The Great Synagogue of Dohány Utca in Budapest is Europe’s largest synagogue, and one of the largest in the world. It seats 3,000 people, split about evenly between the women’s galleries and the ground floor. Its denomination is Neolog, a unique Hungarian denomination often misleadingly described as similar to Reform Judaism. It’s more like liberal Modern Orthodoxy.

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Copyright Aktron

The synagogue is in District VII (Erzsébetváros [Elizabeth Town]), the historic Jewish quarter. It was built from 1854–59, in Moorish Revival style, by Viennese architect Ludwig Förster. The decoration was based upon the Islamic Moorish style of Medieval Spain and North Africa. It also was inspired by Byzantine, Gothic, and Romantic style.

The interior was designed by Frigyes Feszl, the fifth of fourteen children in a family of German origin. Many Budapesti buildings were designed by him, though his name is all but unknown in the West. Geometric frescoes prominently feature among the interior design. Originally, the synagogue had a 5,000-pipe organ which was played by the great Franz Liszt.

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Copyright BáthoryPéter

From 1930–31, the Jewish Museum was created in a new adjoining building, on a piece of land where Theodor Herzl’s house used to stand. The museum has a lot of Judaica on display, as well as historical exhibitions and travelling artwork. Its architectural style matches the synagogue.

Another 1931 addition was the Heroes’ Temple, which seats 250 and is today used for services in winter and on weekdays. It was designed by László Vágó and Ferenc Faragó, as a memorial to those Hungarian Jews who gave their lives in the First World War.

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Jewish Museum, Copyright Thaler

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Heroes’ Temple, Copyright Varius

Under the German occupation of 1944–45, the synagogue was part of the Budapest Ghetto. It was located within the large ghetto, for people without protective papers enabling them to live in the Yellow Star Houses. Since so many people died during those brutal final months of the occupation, there was no choice but to bury them in the synagogue courtyard. It’s very unusual for a synagogue to have a cemetery right on the property.

After the war, a number of the bodies were transferred to Kozma Utca Cemetery, but about 2,000 people remained buried in the courtyard of the Great Synagogue. Architect Imre Varga created a weeping willow sculpture to commemorate all the dead, in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park behind the synagogue.

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Copyright Varius

On 3 February 1939, the fascist Arrow Cross bombed the synagogue. During the ensuing war, it was used as a stable and a base for German Radio. More aerial raids followed, this time from the Germans. During the Siege and Battle of Budapest, it particularly suffered, but wasn’t entirely destroyed.

Before the deportations stopped in early July 1944, Eichmann had his office in the women’s gallery, right behind the rose window. He requested reassignment, and in late August was assigned head of a commando squad rescuing Volksdeutsche on the Hungarian–Romanian border, in the way of the approaching Red Army. He returned to Budapest in the autumn, and arranged for brutal forced labour marches to Vienna. On Christmas Eve, he fled before the Soviets had completed their encirclement of the city.

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Copyright Osendi Cadenas

After the war, Budapest became the centre of Jewish life in Hungary (though there were also several thousand people in next-largest city Debrecen). Many of the survivors who were repatriated found no one and nothing in their hometowns, and so moved to Budapest. Though all the major synagogues had suffered damages, the community nevertheless used them for services.

Not too many years later, when the Soviets had completely taken over, it was boarded up and abandoned. Only in 1990 was it reopened for worship and restored.

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Copyright Neer Ildikó

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Weeping willow sculpture, Copyright Ian Pitchford

My characters spend the 1945 High Holidays by Dohány Utca Synagogue, since the native Hungarians among them all come from Neolog backgrounds. It’s also not a far walk from the survivors’ house they’re living in. After they move across the Danube to the Buda side in October, they begin going to the Óbuda Synagogue.

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Copyright Gabor Dvornik

My 2017 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring places and things from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and its sequels (each following a different group of characters), Sweet Miracles and Rebuilding the RemnantsBranches in turn begins with three of the characters from The Natural Splash of a Living Being escaping a death march, while Splash continues without them.

Branches is set in locales including Abony, Budapest, Florence, Paris, Béziers, Montpellier, and NantesSweet Miracles follows the characters who immigrate to Newark in November 1948 (the name taken from the mousery and rabbitry one of the couples starts), and Remnants follows the characters who immigrate to Israel after the British are finally gone.

You’ll learn about topics like:

Dohány Utca Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Budapest and one of the largest in the world, which Eichmann used as his headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

Jewish Newark, which is now sadly just a fading memory. In the mid-twentieth century, Newark had the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with countless synagogues, schools, bakeries, cemeteries, and other communal institutions.

Machal, the all-volunteer fighting force from abroad which helped Israel to win its War of Independence.

La Samaritaine, a historic department store in Paris.

Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist–Zionist youth group which supported a binational state. (Contrary to what many people on the modern-day Left believe, it’s very possible to be both a Socialist and Zionist without any conflicts!)

Vailsburg, a Newark neighborhood which now has a much different character than it did at mid-century. It includes a former movie palace which today serves as a church.

Košice, Slovakia, the hometown of my character Artur Sklar and Slovakia’s next-largest city. It was also the first European settlement to get a coat of arms.

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, Florence’s oldest hospital, founded by the father of Dante’s love Beatrice.

Basilica di Santa Croce, an impressive complex that’s so more than just a church. It contains Dante’s empty tomb, waiting for Ravenna to return his bones already.

Neology, a uniquely Hungarian denomination that’s akin to Liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the breathtaking Great Synagogue of Florence, which was saved from Nazi destruction in 1944 by brave members of the Italian Resistance. They managed to diffuse almost all of the explosives left by the retreating occupiers.

University of Montpellier, one of the oldest universities in the world, and home to the world’s oldest med school still in operation.

Pasarét, a Bauhaus neighborhood on the Buda side of Budapest.

Gellért Hill, a beautiful, storied hill on the Buda side, with lovely outlooks of the entire city.

Lower Galilee, a beautiful, peaceful region I hope to someday live in, far from the maddening rush of the big cities, and with wonderful interfaith relations. You’ll learn the story behind the most bizarre grave I’ve ever seen!

Several letters have two or three topics, but I kept everything within my usual average of 400–800 words. All non-public domain photographs are properly credited. Since I’ve been to the Lower Galilee, many of those photographs are my own work.

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My names blog will feature (mostly) names from Greek mythology. Since the Greek alphabet doesn’t have certain letters, I found mythological names from other cultures for those days. In the interest of fairness, I always do both a female and male name on each day.