Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

Unlike most Hunga rian Jewish writers, Kobanyai is interested
in the presen t state o f Jewish affairs. He visits old Jewish cem­
eteries in the h in terland and interviews wizened old-timers who
are often sole survivors o f once flourishing communities. He
frequents a tiny O rthodox synagogue in what is Budapest’s Low­
e r East Side, a poor and crowded neighborhood where many
immigrants from Galicia settled in the late n ineteen th and early
twentieth centuries. In this modest
tucked away in the cou r t­
yard o f a crumbling apa rtm en t house, aging worshippers won­
d e r from week to week whether there will be a quo rum at their
next Sabbath morn ing prayers. Yet it is in such a synagogue
ra th e r than in one o f the city’s g rande r temples tha t this so­
phisticated Budapest writer is trying to link up with the past
— a past, he feels, is almost beyond retrieval for most Hungarian
Jews. Yet “those without a past,” Kobanyai writes, “have no fu ­
tu re e ither .”
And the past is to be found in the synagogue. Not necessarily in the
rituals themselves, or in the words, or the strict order of the prayers;
or in the strange-looking letters, the difficult to puzzle out language,
though it may of course reside in them as well. The past can really be
found in solitary people who have reached the age of reckonings. It's
there in their eyes, in those summoning brown orbs which reveal the
bottomless well of time. It throbs in the living history and enduring faith
that only they can impart. But the past is present in something else,
too, in something much harder to grasp, something one is forced to call,
metaphorically at least, the presence of God. But one need not call it
anything. Simply to be here, to stave off further decline, to act
one must do. And one must also yield, to the touch, to an initiatory
one must accept, perhaps as a metaphysical necessity, that
until the very end of time, until the coming of the Messiah, the tents
of Jacob must stand.5
glish); and Zorica Krausz,
Magyarorszagi zsido etelek
(Hungarian Jewish Cui­
sine). Budapest: Minerva, 1984. English edition:
Old Jewish Dishes.
Corvina, 1988.
5. Janos Kobanyai,
Magyar siratofal
(Hungarian Wailing Wall). Budapest:
Szepirodalmi-Tevan, 1990, p. 177.