09 Apr The Jewish face of the Tokaj Region
Wine & dine and the memories of the Jewish past in the land of wonder rabbis
The Tokaj Region of Hungary has had a world fame for centuries: its Tokaji wine is the sweet, topaz-colored wine known all over the world as Tokay.
It is a matter of fact that the winemakers and wine merchants of the Tokaj region were mainly Jewish settlers from Poland and the Ukraine -leaning toward Hasidism- who started to produce and export kosher wine mainly to north and east to Hasidic courts in Greater Poland from the beginning of the 18th century. The Tokaj Region soon became a pretty lively area of Jewish culture in Hungary until the Second World War.
Although you find very few Jews in the region and in some towns you won’t find any, the beautiful traces of a once prosperous community is still perceptible: synagogues, cemeteries, some residential buildings, vineyards and the stunning landscape that captured them as well many years ago are there to be explored.
Mád has a unique and beautifully renovated late Baroque synagogue from 1795 presenting a Polish-Lithuanian influence from the Hasidic Jews. Actually, it is considered to be one of the oldest synagogues in Hungary. It sits on a hill with a stunning view to the surrounding vineyards and there is Barnabás, the most enthusiastic caretaker I have ever met. The Jewish cemetery of Mád was also settled around 1800 and is full of gravestones both with Hungarian and Hebrew inscriptions.
The land of sweet aszú and late-harvest wines. Whereas in vineyards outside Tokaj the harvest is mainly done in September, in Tokaj grapes are let to start rotting on the vine. Grapes affected by the special kind of noble rot become the basis of aszú. To visit a mold-coated cellar in the region is an unforgettable experience.Visiting the impressive synagogue of Tokaj (built in the late 19th century) is also a must.
Is most famous for one of the Hungarian wonder rabbis, Reb Saje Steiner (1851 – 1925). He was a deeply respected religious leader of the Hasidic Jews. Many people -not only Jews- made a pilgrimage from great distances to see him in his life and still many has been visiting him in his resting place, especially on his yahrzeit.
Tarcal, Károlyfalva, Tolcsva, Erdőbénye, Tállya are just some of the places also worth visiting in the region. They all give a bit different kind of challenge to the traveller. Your imagination is the limit!
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