I'm writing this from the extraordinarily beautiful cabin onboard the Avalon Waterways Panorama. This is the first full day of our Danube river cruise and I'm loving it!!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Yesterday morning, after checking out of our not-so-terrific hotel in the Tokaj region of Hungary (beautiful wine country), we headed to the quaint little town of Mad. It's pronounced more like "mod".
Karesz took us through some amazingly beautiful countryside and it seemed as if this last day in Hungary would be pretty uneventful. Then he parked the car and told us to get out because he had a surprise for us. The surprise turned out to be an unbelievable visit to a Synagogue that had been totally desecrated and ruined by the Nazis .. . and was now in a state of restoration thanks to a Roman Catholic man amed Barnabas Feher.
Mr. Feher was given a piece of land by the Hungarian government over 50 years ago. The piece of land happened to be the property on which stood a ruined Synagogue that had been built in 1795. I can't say what went through the man's mind when he realized what it was. The building was not much more than a shell with broken windows. Inside there were hundreds of pigeons and everything was covered in bird crap.
He covered the windows with plastic and single-handedly cleaned out the building. He gathered together everything he could find that had broken away from both the interior and exterior of the building. He guarded and protected the building.
I don't know a timeline for what happened other than the fact that, for over 50 years, this man has lovingly cared for this Synagogue. It is now in the process of being restored. He has been honored by the State of Israel, by the country of Hungary and by the Jewish community of Hungary. When we asked him why he did it, he simply responded that it was just the right thing to do.
We finally said our last goodbye to Hungary and boarded the boat that will take us on our 8-day Danube river cruise. The boat holds 150 people but there are only 80 on board. The rest cancelled after the terror attacks in Brussels a couple of weeks ago. I can't live my life like that.
Today we visited Bratislava, a city in Slovakia that at one time was the capital of Hungary. We parted ways with Judy and Mark for a few hours because they took the walking tour while Bill and I took the "gentle walk" tour. Like most cities in this part of the world, there are buildings that are hundreds of years old. Americans have no idea what "old" means! If we see a building that was built 250 years ago we consider that OLD. In Europe that's NEW.
Because this river cruise is themed as a "Jewish Heritage" cruise, we will be visiting lots of Synagogues and getting lots of Jewish European history. Many of Europe's old Synagogues are museums now because there aren't enough people in the local Jewish community to support the upkeep. Seeing the large Synagogues, hearing how many people were in the community before the Shoah (Holocaust) and having to reckon with the reality that today there are only a handful of people left in the community . . . that's always going to be difficult to hear.
But we're here. And our people are bringing life back to the "old country". That's a very good thing.