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Budapest Silence

Faigy Schonfeld

I look at the shimmering blue Danube and all I can see is blood. In my head, faraway screams, whimpering children, takkatakkatakkatakka — gunshots, and blood

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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Photo: Shutterstock

I f there’s one thing that strikes me about Budapest, it’s the silence. It rings.

Oh, it’s busy, full of tourists and beggars and honking cars. But still, it’s silent.

Friday night in Budapest; something sad and beautiful and bittersweet riffles through the dry August air. We walk as the sky turns lilac then purple, and people rush about, oblivious to the soft whispers of an arriving queen. In shul, we stand in the gallery and watch the varied group of men, swaying and singing together, a thin flute of voices echoing in a cavernous hall.

I start Lecha Dodi. It is Shabbos but still, it’s hard not to cry. It’s so big in here, high ceilings and large rooms and the women’s galleries, two of them. Around me is a large gallery, now filled with my friends, usually silent. I look up and there’s another, identical gallery... circling the entire shul, cavernous and empty.

I close my eyes and faces float inside my eyelids. Dark eyes set in sweet faces, framed in white Shabbos silk, pretty woolen dresses and pearl necklaces, grasping little hands in their own. There must have been so many of them, once. So many young mothers and wise bubbies, bright-faced girls with dark locks and ruffled collars, squeezing past each other to get a glimpse of the shul below. So many little shoes must have stamped on the wooden ledge of the mechitzah, girls in velvet dresses and boys in keshketlach, licking sticky fingers and pressing their noses to the wooden gate.

I lick my lips and taste the energy, the perspiration and excitement;


I open my eyes and look down, almost hoping to see a stampede of joyous men in shiny beketshes and shtreimlach, clasping hands and singing.

The handful of men sit and sing, beautiful songs, in a big, lonesome shul.

Shabbos morning dawns bright and cloudless. Walking down the bustling streets, admiring the vintage buildings and breathing in the summer air... I can almost forget where I am, forget the shadow hanging over the pleasantness like a mourning veil.

Almost, though not quite. We stroll past the Danube, silver, blue, and scalloped with a stretch of diamonds. They are very busy with their Danube, these Hungarians. In our hotel, pictures of the luminous river are hung along the hallways; through the speakers croon lilting songs of, “The Beautiful Blue.”

But I’ve read too much. I look at the shimmering body of blue and all I can see is blood. In my head, faraway screams, whimpering children, takkatakkatakkatakka — gunshots, and blood. I swallow and look away. There’s too much to imagine around here.

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