70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
The second wailing wall
The Transylvanian Sabbatarians and their descendants in Israel
By Eszter Korányi - 2018-02-12
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
Not too many people are aware that, in Transylvania, well ahead of the many American Adventist communities with their many believers and celebrities, there had lived so-called Sabbatarians since the 16th century. Probably I, too, would only be familiar with the Transylvanian religious freedom, the Unitarians and the other Calvinist denominations, had I not known a woman during my childhood who was a Transylvanian Sabbatarian. I became curious: how can one be Christian and Jew at the same time? At that time, I got a simplistic answer to my question, appropriate for a 7-8 year old, but somehow this story has stuck in my mind.
However, up until this series was planned, I did not know that there were descendants of the Sabbatarians living in Israel. Prompted by the memory of my childhood acquaintance, I accepted the task of writing this article and checked out the information - I can tell you in advance that I could not reach anyone from this community, but I found stunning historical parallels.
The second wailing wall
In the heat of the Reformation and thanks to the Transylvanian Religious Freedom, we find 20-30 thousand Christian believers from the 16-17th centuries who, in the spirit of returning to the basics, observed certain rules of the Old Testament; most of all they obeyed the observance of the Sabbath, but also, they accepted Jesus' teachings. Like the Unitarians, they also think of Him as a human being. However, as Ferenc Rákóczi I regarded them as a political enemy, after the second half of the 17th century, the Sabbatarians were persecuted. Some of them flew to Turkey, and some of them converted to the Unitarian faith and only small, scattered groups of them remained. The largest community at the end of the 19th century lived in Bözödújfalu that had ended up suffering a tragic fate.
The settlement is considered as a symbol of the Transylvanian village destruction program; despite all international and local protests, Ceauşescu flooded the village valley in 1989 in order to establish a reservoir. By 1994, all houses were under water, and none of the families, not even those who lived on higher ground and stayed for a while could be found. In fact, in 2014, the Catholic Church's tower had finally given up and collapsed in the middle of the water.
The flooded Catholic church of Bözödújfalu collapsed in 2014. - photo: Wikipedia
However, the former, religiously varied and tolerant community did not surrender. Árpád Sükösd, born 1995 in the village, has built the second wailing wall of the world here – not trying to copy the one in Jerusalem, but it, too, has become a manifestation of a place - once lived in and then destroyed - that continues to exist in the memory and traditions. The wall has a Roman and Greek cross, a Protestant cup and a star of David mounted on it.
The natives of the village and their descendants gather for a Remembrance Day every year. Some come from the area, but it is reported that ten years ago a member of the Rosenz family from Israel attended.
Jews and Sabbatarians
A unique event in history is when the Sabbatarians who had lived together in several Transylvanian villages with Jews, using the 1867 Religious Tolerance Law, formally converted to the Jewish faith, for they thought they would be less likely to be persecuted this way. They did not quite melt together with the Jewish community; they maintained their own traditions, though there were mixed marriages. They had been exempted for a while from the Jewish laws of the 1940s, but with the German invasion of Hungary and the beginning of the deportations, they were forced into ghettos - how many they were at this time, a few hundred or roughly five thousand, the researchers disagree on that. István Ráduly, a Catholic priest in Bözödújfalu, managed to save roughly sixty Sabbatarians from the Marosvásárhely ghetto - but there were those who remained loyal to the Jews and refused to leave. Almost all of them were lost in Auschwitz.
Two old men and the rabbi in the Bözödújfalu synagogue.
Of the surviving hundred, or even a few hundred according to some opinions, many relocated to Palestine after the war, including a sibling of András Kovács sociologist and the most famous chronicler of the story of this neighborhood. Árpád Sükösd had met with 15-20 people in Haifa and Yafo some thirty years ago; in fact, he found a woman who cooked a csörögefánk [donut-like sweets] and spoke Hungarian perfectly.
Seven years ago a journalist from Haaretz managed to find a few people - including the Kovács family - but they did not want to give an interview. The reason they gave was that many people lived in Haredi communities and did not want to reveal their origins in order to avoid being doubted as to their true Jewish identity.
The question is: who is responsible for preserving this unique heritage - Jews of Hungarian origin living in Israel, the Middle East, the Hungarian, or the Romanian state? Anyhow, it would be a pity if these memories of these special and faithful people were forgotten.
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