Thursday, July 2, 2009

Roots


















Just returned from Europe, where my brother and his family and Alison and I accompanied my 87 year old mother, Iris, to Hungary for a week so that she could trace her roots.

The highlight of the trip for Iris was our visit to the city of Miskolc, about 2 hours northeast of Budapest, where it was believed her mother's mother's family, the Davidowitz's, lived and owned a winery in the old days.

Efforts to connect via email with the head of the local Jewish community turned out to be a comedy of errors, so we drove to the city center and found ourselves to be only 2 blocks from the old Orthodox synagogue. Stopping in there, the caretaker called a congregation member to open it and show us around.

His name was Peter, and he looks to be about 30 years old, and had his wife and child with him. He offered us a little history on the building (designed by the same architect as the celebrated synagogue in Budapest that we had visited) and the local Jewish community (nearly all were killed in the Holocaust, as the Nazis were pretty thorough in the eastern Hungarian countryside, compared to Budapest, where many more Jews managed to survive the war).

When I told him that my mother's family name was Davidowitz and the story had been that they had a winery, we were astounded to learn that there had once been two main winemaking families in Miskolc: Davidowitz and Lefkowitz. Though he was not aware of any descendents today, Peter took us to the synagogue office, a repository of old books recording births, deaths and marriages, and located a marriage registry from the mid- to late-1800s, in which there were Davidowitz family members recorded.

We thanked him and gave him a donation to the synagogue, and Peter gave us a bottle of his own wine as well as a taste of his "pahlinka," a grappa-type of Hungarian brandy--tasty & with a bite.

Later that day, we made our way to Mad and Tokaj, about 30 minutes away, in the heart of the wine-making region famous for sweet wines. In each, there was a synagogue, testifying to the times when it was said that the Jewish population of Hungary was as much as 40% of the total citizenry.

In the lovely town of Tokaj, we went to a winery--really ancient cave-like vaults now used primarily as a tasting room since most of the wineries are adjacent to the vineyards today. There we tasted several Tokaj wines, never before imagining such variety and depth of character in sweet wines.

We returned to Mad, staying overnight at a small hotel that was reportedly converted from a former bank building. This tiny hamlet gave us some sense of what life might have been for the Davidowitz family more than 150 years ago.

3 comments:

Mike Schipper said...

Very interesting. I read your blog as often as I can. Keep up the good work. Also, loved your new BBC series.

Rick Stein said...

Sorry, my BBC series was canceled. Oh...wait...did you mean Rick Stein the seafood chef from Cornwall UK? Sorry, not me--but I have eaten in his restaurant!

Team-Up4Success said...

What a wonderful experience to had with you mother! I understand that the Davidowitz's were viticulurists but wonder whether they made wine resembling the famous Tokaji Azus Puttonyos wines.