Wednesday, June 17, 2015


This week my wife Ines and I decided to clear our basement where we stored boxes of old pictures, going back 40 or 50 years. We were younger then, and surrounded by parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins who infused meaning into our lives. Alas, those days are gone forever, and we are only left with colorful images.

The biblical poet urges us to “Remember the days of old” (Deut. 32:7), and that is good.  In the same spirit, an anonymous author stated that pictures capture the moments in our lives for many tomorrows. “Many”-- in our lives, yes; “forever”-No! Some of these treasured memories are meaningful to us who lived the moment, and may have some significance for our children, but what about our grandchildren and their own kids? I doubt it. They may take a curious look at them, and that’s it. Unless one is extremely well-known beyond one’s immediate circle, most pictures are meant for the close family members of one or two generations, at most. These are “our” pictures, “our” recollections. By looking at them, we briefly relive the moment. Others will have their own images that will sustain them in their lives.

Among the treasures we found were pictures of our respective parents’ early years as well as those taken during major celebrations and notable life-cycle events, such as Ines’ “quinceaƱera” (when she turned 15), other weddings and Bar/t Mitzvas. I retrieved one of my parents’ engagement; one taken during my high school days, a great one of me wearing a Turkish army uniform; pictures of our kids’ birth; early travels. I even found one showing my long dark hair and no facial hair. When my grandchildren look at them, they will not stop laughing: “You look so different” they will say; “You were so young,” or even “Is that you?”

What is the message? I like what Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author,  once said: “Life is short, and we should respect every moment of it.” I personally do not believe in the hereafter, and consider our life on earth precious and worthy of living, hopefully in relative good health, but fully, cheerfully and creatively, leaving a good name behind.  

My wife and I did not keep all the pictures; in fact, we discarded most of them, but saved a few that will still bring a smile to our faces, and perhaps a chuckle among our grandchildren. 

C’est la vie!

Rifat Sonsino

June 17, 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015


In early June (2015), my wife and I visited the famous Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, and were fascinated by it.

Located in the old Jewish section of Pest, the so-called Tabakgasse synagogue (“dohany” means “tobacco” in Hungarian, from the Ottoman Turkish and Arabic “duhan”) is the largest house of worship in Europe and one of the biggest temples in the Jewish world (Temple Emanuel in NY is larger). It can accommodate close to 3000 worshipers, and looks very much like the Central Synagogue of NYC.  It costs about $13 to get in as a tourist. 

Originally built in the Moorish style in 1859, the synagogue is a part of a complex that also houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum. Behind the impressive Ark (see picture above), there is a huge organ that was played by famous musicians like Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens. It also has a mixed choir. Worshippers, both men and women, can sit on the ground floor but women are segregated to the sides.

The synagogue was bombed by the Hungarian pro-Nazis in Feb.1939, and used as a base for the German Radio and stable by the nazis during the WW2.  Thanks to the generosity of many American Jews, like Estee Lauder and Toni Curtis, the temple was restored between 1991-98.

The congregation practices what they call “Neolog” Judaism that is based on the teachings of Rabbi Zecharias Frankel (1801-1875, died in Breslau) of the Positive-Historical Judaism, and is somewhere between Reform and Conservative Judaism in the States. However, they are not formally affiliated with either movement in America.

Before arriving in Budapest I wrote a note to the Rabbi of the temple. When we got there, I tried to see him personally but he was not available, so I left him a message.

It is not clear how many Jews live in Hungary today. The estimated range is from 120,000 to as low a 35,000.

When you have a chance, do visit this magnificent structure. You will be very impressed by it.

Rifat Sonsino
June 12, 2015