Budapest Residential

Last weekend I led a group of teenagers from Westminster Synagogue along with with their peers from East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue (ELELS) on a weekend trip to Budapest. My fellow leaders on the trip were Rabbi Richard Jacobi, and Student Rabbi Sarah Rosenbaum Jones.

The aim of the trip, aside from exploring a city rich in culture and history, was to meet and experience the story of a Jewish community that has existed in vastly different circumstances; through the Holocaust and the years under Communism, than we could imagine. We also wished for the students to make friends and broaden their social networks, which we saw happen very quickly indeed.

Leaving Luton Airport at 8.15 on the Friday morning, our first experience was a bus tour of the city, which enabled us to get a sense of the topography, the River Danube and its relationship between Buda and Pest. We took in the best view in the city from Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District, climbed on legends of Hungary’s history at Heroes Square, and also visited a memorial to a true hero to the Jews, Raoul Wallenberg. Most moving was the Shoe Memorial by the river.

We spent the evening being warmly welcomed by the Szim Salom Reform community with whom we shared the Friday night service and a hearty meal of pizza and pancakes- a local speciality. Our students engaged in conversation with the locals over dinner.

We began Saturday with a shacharit service at a Jewish community space before heading to the Palace of Wonders for one of our lighter hearted activities: escape rooms and a 9D cinema experience. After lunch at a nearby hummous bar, we ventured to the Holocaust Museum which was undoubtedly the most moving part of our trip. Following a guided tour, Rabbi Richard led a memorial service at which the students lit candles.

After some free time in the main shopping precinct, we boarded a Danube cruiser where we dined and experienced Budapest lit up on all sides of the river It was unseasonably warm weather; perfect for taking in the sites on the decks outside. We ventured back inside to conclude our cruise and Shabbat by making havdalah.

On Sunday, our final morning, we visited the Great Synagogue on Dohány Street- the largest in Europe and third largest in the world. It is an impressive building, but when the guide told us proudly that they are the keepers of 12 Torah Scrolls, our students were delighted to point out that actually we have 1564 (Czech Scrolls)!

Our last stop was the Statue Park housing giant works from the Communist era. We tried to break the world record for how many people fit into a Trabant, but only managed 11, which is 6 short of the actual record!

The trip was undoubtedly a success based on feedback from our students and wha I have heard from parents. The students made new friends and had unforgettable Jewish experiences as well as broadening their horizons. Our group have asked that we arrange further activities with ELELS in the future.

For teenagers aged 13-15 wishing to get involved with our group, I recommend joining Kabbalah Torah, a group that meets once per month on a Friday. As well as being an excellent social catchup, the students spend each session learning about a topic of interest. We also have other programmes for teens including the GCSE and we are hoping that a group of our 16 year olds will join Israel Tour this summer for which we are holding a taster evening on Friday 30th November.

For information on this or any educational activity, please contact me at nick@westminstersynagogue.org.

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