JEWS RESTORE HUNGARIAN SYNAGOGUE
SZEGED, HUNGARY — ``This is a historic day for the Jews of Szeged, the Jews of Hungary, and for all world Jewry,'' said Ralph Goldman, honorary executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the largest United States Jewish aid organization. Mr. Goldman was speaking at an emotional ceremony last month that marked the rededication of the grandiose turn-of-the-century Great Synagogue in the southern town of Szeged following extensive renovation.
Seven busloads of people from Budapest nearly filled the synagogue's 1,600 seats for the ceremony.
The mother of a girl who sang during the ceremony in one of the Budapest Jewish children's choirs, said, ``It's a very important day. My daughter has never seen such a beautiful synagogue in Hungary.''
September was a historic month in what has been described as a dramatic ``renaissance'' of Hungarian Jewish life, spurred on by the rapid social and political reforms sweeping the country during the past two years.
Two days before the Szeged synagogue dedication, the Joint Distribution Committee opened its first official East European office in Budapest.
A week later came the landmark restoration of full diplomatic relations between Hungary and Israel.
In between came a reunion of former students of Budapest's Jewish High School. Hundreds of graduates came from all over the world to mark the school's 70th anniversary and pay homage to their classmates who had died in the Nazi Holocaust. Many had not seen each other since the war.
Hungary had a Jewish population of more than 800,000 before World War II. About 600,000 were murdered, most of them from provincial towns and villages.
Today, there are about 80,000 Jews in the country, almost all of them in Budapest. After Britain and France, Hungary has the largest Jewish community in Europe and is the only East European country where there are enough Jews to maintain a vibrant Jewish culture.