Documentary shows how young Jews brought Budapest shtiebel back to life
Key leader of Teleki Square Synagogue revitalization who worked on film visits Dayton for screening at Neon
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Over nearly two decades, András Mayer and his brother, Gábor, have led the rebirth and restoration of the Teleki Square Synagogue, Budapest’s last shtiebel (little Jewish prayer house), which somehow escaped Nazi and Communist destruction.
András will bring a documentary to Dayton about the synagogue, Tales of Teleki Square (2017), for a screening at The Neon, March 3. Filmed over several years, it shows how young hipster Jews brought the synagogue back to life, and features interviews with the last remaining Jews who recalled life there before the Holocaust.
Gábor produced the film, directed by Barbara Spitzer; András was the director’s assistant.
The brothers first joined the shtiebel’s prayer services in 1999 when Jakab Gláser, who ran the synagogue, recruited András. Gábor and some of their friends also started coming at that time, when “the congregation had shrunk to only a few old men who were getting even fewer,” according to András.
When Gláser died in 2006, the Mayers and their friends knew that without them, Budapest’s last shtiebel wouldn’t survive. They became its leaders.
Chabad Rabbi Sholom Hurwitz — who with his wife, Devorah Leah, arrived in Budapest a few years earlier to become head of the Pesti Yeshiva — began serving the Teleki Square Synagogue.
The Mayer brothers helped establish the Jakab Gláser Memorial Foundation, a non-governmental organization to support the needs of the Teleki Square Synagogue project. They also understood the importance of documenting the history of the Teleki Square Jewish community while there were still a few elderly Jews alive who could talk about life there before the Holocaust. This was the impetus for the documentary, Tales of Teleki Square, the first of three documentaries they hope to produce. In May 2017, it won the Best Documentary Award of the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival.
Its Dayton screening is presented by the JCC Film Fest and the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Partnership2Gether program. Dayton’s Jewish Federation — along with 15 other Jewish Federations in the United States — is partnered with the Jewish community of Budapest and the Western Galilee region in Israel. A program of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Partnership2Gether promotes global Jewish identity through people-to-people relationships.
“The Jewish community in Budapest is focused on young people,” said Marcy L. Paul, Dayton’s JCRC director, who oversees Partnership2Gether here. “Some older people in Budapest are disconnected from their Judaism, some don’t identify, and others look to the younger generation to build a connection.”
According to JTA, poor Jewish migrants began settling in the Teleki neighborhood in the 1850s. Most made a living selling items at the Teleki Square flea market. The Teleki Square Synagogue, at Teleki Square #22, according to the congregation’s history, was once known as the Chortkover Kloyz and was founded by Chasidim from Chartkov, Galicia (now in Ukraine), who arrived in Hungary in the 1920s after World War I.
These Chasidim were poor peddlers who also sold items at the flea market. Before the Holocaust, dozens of shtiebels served the approximately 30,000 Jews who lived around Teleki Square.
Pogroms in October 1944 destroyed several of the shtiebels. Some were around until the 1970s and 1980s; today, only the Teleki Square Synagogue remains, which now hosts hundreds of people with its programs and worship services.
“There’s a rebirth,” Paul said. “There’s a lot going on in this vibrant Jewish community.”
JCC Film Fest and Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council present the documentary Tales of Teleki Square at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 3 at The Neon, 130 E. 5th St., Dayton, followed by a discussion with András Mayer. Tickets are $9 and may be purchased at jewishdayton.org, by calling the Federation at 937-610-1555, or at the door.