Jewish Journal

Her Perfectness: The synagogue in Tokaj

Pavel Pustelnik

August 17, 2012 | 10:17 am

You hear Tokaj and you think: wine. Sweet, deep yellow and many different ways of harvesting the grapes that have completely non-pronounceable names. After all, on the wine etiquettes you do not see synagogues printed.

Tokaj is a bit lost in the Hungarian countryside. We have been hitchhiking through from Poland to Slovakia to get there. Frankly saying it was easier than you can think. Tokaj has not more than 6000 inhabitants nowadays and reaching it may be a bit cumbersome if you want to give up any type of public transportation and do not owe a car.

The atmosphere of the town during a weekday evening is absurdly calm. Afer six o’clock the streets are empty and the only sound you can hear is the church bell that slowly measures time. Nothing happens, no tourists apart from a family that seems equally startled as us by the peacefulness of the place that was supposed to be bustling with wine-fuelled life. A walk through the main street brings us to the biggest surprise of the trip: a large, fully-renovated and dazzlingly white synagogue. The gate is open, but there are no information about the building. The building behind the synagogue looks like a refurbished cultural centre that has been forgotten after the rebuilding. It is nor scary, not normal but definitely deserves a further research in the town where everybody seems to know only three words: “dry”, “sweet” and obviously “wine”.

Tokaj used to be a host for Jews already in the mid 1700s. The synagogue that was serving the community has been destroyed by fire and the Jewish community decided to rebuild it in an impressive way. Although the war has swept away the Jews of Tokaj, the synagogue remained practically untouched. It is not as towering as the church located at the main square of the town but distinguishes itself by its grand concept and whiteness. The interior has not been restored during the renovation. The light inner area has a dreamy atmosphere caused by the vanilla walls and contrasting black window frames and balustrades located at the mezzanine level. Large arches inside emulate the outside structures. An absolutely elegant architectural rhythm lets no extravagancy neither outside nor inside. The building have been conceived in a spirit of natural beauty combined with an impressive thought of creating a grand edifice in a rural area. It might seem that the synagogue is a bit out of place. As if it has been assembled somewhere an by accident brought to Tokaj. The neighboring houses are nor elegant nor particularly renovated.

When we walk back towards the campsite where we stay we spot one more building that did not seem of any interest before. A decayed orthodox church that still serves the believers. The local authorities promoting wine have forgotten that probably offer a very peculiar religious landscape as well.


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