Jánoshalma synagogue exterior


...Jánoshalma, midday, a warm sunny late summer day. Along the road from the station, grass, insects and trees for about three blocks, the dearest little houses on either side, some quite old, in Hungary’s summer colours: brown, orange, old pink, cream, yellow, olive...warm and earthy.

The grass on the verge is long but tidy, with flowers, sometimes in tubs. I stumble a few times on the higgeldy-piggeldy rectangular paving stones, following other train passengers, the only sound their muffled footsteps and the occasional scooter or two-stroke car spluttering by.

At the end of the street, on the left, I see the synagogue, checking my notes for the address just to make sure: The corner of Rakoczi utca and Petofi utca. And just as the guidebook says, it gives the impression of having stood empty and untouched, like a time capsule, since the end of the war...one of the few remaining village synagogues in Hungary where interior and exterior are fully intact.

Inside, the simple interior furnishings are in good condition but are neglected and dusty... on the bimah brittle palm fronds [lulav] left from the Sukkoth holiday.. Apparently there is an exercise book for guests to sign. From time to time someone has signed the flimsy pages. I wonder how they got in! Former adjacent community buildings are now used as housing.

First I see a stone wall, about six, seven feet high, so rundown that in some places the brick remains but the mortar has almost completely worn away, leaving narrow gaps through which you can see the tips of chest-high grass unkempt in the courtyard on the other side. A better view is gained a little further along where a brick has fallen out. Unfortunately it’s a bit high to scale.

There is a double gate, in dark wood, almost as high as the wall, and securely locked. Adjoined to the wall, a yellow house on the corner, single storey, paintwork faded and crumbling. Some windows are open but no-one is around. From across the road I can see the schul, the steep roof peak crowned by tablets, and with a couple round windows.

I ask a few people about access but they either don’t understand, or don’t know how to obtain entry to the synagogue. The small Jewish community first came to Jánoshalma [pronounced Yonosholmo], a farming settlement, in the 1700s, and this schul dates to the mid 19th century, having been rebuilt in 1920. The Jewish complement of the town, about 300 people, died in the Holocaust.

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