PHOTOS: Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims visit this tiny Hungarian village
More than 70 thousand Hasidic Jewish pilgrims will visit a tiny Hungarian village, Bodrogkeresztúr near Tokaj this year alone. They are not only visiting the tomb of a miracle Rabbi but are planning to repopulate the village which once held a large Jewish population.
In 2023, more than 70,000 Hasidic Jewish pilgrims could visit the small village of Bodrogkeresztúr, according to the Keren Menachen Assembly, index.hu reports. The pilgrims pay their respect to Yeshaya Steiner, also known as Rabbi Shaya’la, who lived in Bodrogkeresztúr in the late 19th and early 20th century until his death in 1925.
He was considered a miracle Rabbi already during his lifetime, and his tomb become a popular pilgrimage site. Hasidic Jews believe that his former house which became a visitor centre and his tomb still have miraculous power.
But why did Bodrogkeresztúr become such a popular site for Jewish pilgrims now, almost 100 years after the Rabbi’s death? According to his grandson, Rabbi Rubin, with the change of regime in Hungary after 1989 and the more convenient and cheaper transportation methods the descendants of Hasidic Jewish families, who used to live in this area, have better access to visit the village.
“My father fled in 1950. Although he lived in Brooklyn, his heart remained in Bodrogkeresztúr,” Rabbi Rubin told 24.hu. “He was in constant contact with the last Jewish resident of the village, Frida Winkler, sending her money regularly to look after the graves in the Jewish cemetery. As a child, I remember sitting around our father reading letters from home about who had married and where children had been born. We would even find out when the Bodrog was flowing and what the water level was.”
Rabbi Rubin visited Bodrogkeresztúr for the first time in 1982 and purchased the house of his family back around 2010, which now operates as a visiting centre. Despite not wanting to profit from religious tourism, due to the high number of pilgrims they had to build a guesthouse and provide kosher food for the visitors.
“Hungarian Jews always had a sense of homesickness and nostalgia. Many people came to my father and later to me every year with letters, with prayers written on paper, to bring them to the tomb. The first generations could not come in person because they had to build their own lives and the conditions of Jewish life from scratch in their new homeland. Educational institutions, synagogues, community and ritual spaces, everything with their own two hands. So, the first generation didn’t have money to travel, but they didn’t want to lose touch with Hungary, so my father became the link. The second and third generation’s life is easier, and travel has become cheaper” – explained the Rabbi.
Repopulating ancestral lands
According to 24.hu’s report, one of the concerns of the locals with the Jewish pilgrims is that they are driving up real estate prices as they are not only looking for places for guesthouses but they might try to re-establish the local Jewish communities. Rabbi Rubin thinks that the pilgrimage is just the first step, and many Jews will return to their ancestral land.
“It will be like going back to the past, going back to the days before the Holocaust when there were many Jews living in the villages in the area. I think I’m too old to see that, but my sons will be here soon to take my place” – said Rabbi Rubin.