70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

These are our Hasidim

By Juli Kristóf - 2018-03-21

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

There were three of them; clinging to one another, they were walking aimlessly, forlorn in the heart of the city of sin; bearded, in black and white, wearing those hats. We've been watching them for a while as they hurried back and forth, at the same time without direction and also deliberately, somehow - until they finally stopped in front of us. They were on their way to Petach Tikva to see the Admor of Miskolc [abbreviation for ADoneinu MOreinu Rabeinu – “our master, our teacher and our rabbi”].


The 18th century Hungary was an excellent breeding place for Hasidic groups. It was close to the Polish-Ukrainian axis, along which the miraculous rabbis and their determined followers had frequently appeared. The vast majority of Hungarian Hasidic dynasties stem from the eastern, northeastern part of the country - from Eger to Máramarossziget. From Ungvár to Nagykálló. The only exception was Pápa, the original home of the Puppa Hasidim who by now live in Brooklyn. Of the most important Hasidic courts nine come from Hungary alone - including one of the most important ones, most famous/infamous - the Satmar Hasidim, and we have not even listed the smaller ones - including Dés, Eger / Erlaut and Miskolc, mentioned above.


Nearly fifteen years ago, when I met my friend David at a festival, he mentioned that he was familiar with the Hungarian language, as there was a town near his home in New York where many spoke Hungarian. I was a little shocked at that time - as no matter how hard I tried, I could not remember ever hearing about such a distant Hungarian town. Trianon tore the country apart - but not that much. David added that these Hungarian residents were also Jews, men in black and white, their women wearing wigs. He was of talking about Kiryas Joel, the city of the Satmar Jews, whose lives have been fully controlled by the rules and norms of the sect.


Here, in Israel, we also bump into them all the time - of course only if we are in the right places - in Jerusalem and in Bnei Brak, but we can encounter, for example, the Eger Hasidim in Ashdod, the ones from  Miskolc mentioned previously in  Petach Tikva or the Stropkov Hasidim in Ramla.

We could argue about how much the Jewish state should be grateful for having our strange Hungarian Hasidim. Of course - of course – they are different; if you ask someone from Holon, he will probably respond: what a crazy bunch they all are. They won’t stop until they’ve got at least twenty children, their men walk with their head down on the streets; during festivities they are prancing around in fur hats and patterned caftans. At the same time, however, these are our good old Hasidim, our traces, ancient finds. Survivors of another, long forgotten age - like the American Amish or the aboriginals of the Amazon rainforest. With their presence, they allow us a glimpse into the world of centuries ago when the rabbis did miracles and were all-powerful, and the fur hat was certainly not as hot as it is today, here in Israel…

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