Following a terrorist attack near Vienna’s synagogues, David Sachs reflects on his time in the Austrian capital.
As my wife, Freda, and I celebrated our first anniversary this year, we fondly recalled our honeymoon in Vienna, Austria. We were shocked, however, to learn of terrorist attacks this Nov. 2 on six sites in the central city, including just outside the city’s largest synagogue, the Stadttemple.
Freda and I were married in Krakow, Poland, the land of our forebears, the day after Yom Kippur, 2019. For our honeymoon, we decided to celebrate in Austria, the country of Freda’s birth (in a post-War displaced persons camp). We arrived in Vienna on Oct. 13, in time for Sukkot services that night at the majestic, nearly 200-year-old Stadttemple.
As in much of Western Europe, a heavily armed military guard protected the entrance to the synagogue, and we were thoroughly screened before being allowed to enter.
The synagogue, as big and beautiful inside as an opera hall, is inauspicious from the street. When it was built in 1826, the prevailing antisemitism required synagogues to be hidden, so it sits obscured on the outside by an apartment building.
Once inside, Freda headed for the women’s balcony while a friendly British expat located an English-language Artscroll siddur for me. He invited us to stay for a full chicken dinner afterward, but we decided, instead, to explore the city center.
On the cobblestone streets surrounding the synagogue are several restaurants and taverns. These were targets of the Nov. 2 terrorist gunfire. News reports said the rabbi who lived above the synagogue said he heard about 100 rounds fired.
This corner of downtown Vienna is home to the historic Judenstadt or Jewish Quarter. Although it is not the center of the Jewish community now, it is home to several Jewish museums and points of interest.
During our stay, we visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Museum, the Judenplatz monument to 65,000 Jewish Austrians who were killed in the Holocaust, and the Judenplatz Museum.
Most Viennese Jews live about a mile north, across the Danube River. We visited the Chabad House there on Sukkot and a barbecue in the sukkah the day after. The congregants were very welcoming and included a mixture of Jews from several parts of the world. The rabbi’s wife, upon realizing we were newlyweds, suggested the group recite the Sheva Brachot wedding blessings in honor of our nuptials.
On our last day in town, after stuffing ourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers at the Chabad House barbecue, we had our only chance to sample the kosher shish kabob and chicken schnitzel at the Bahur Tov restaurant across the street. So much indulgence for a couple who rarely ate meat!
The Veganista “ice cream” store down the street from Chabad had a unifying rabbinical certification on its window — VHK, standing for Vegan-Halal-Kosher — meant to appeal to vegans, Muslims and Jews.
Our experience in Vienna was positive and uplifting. In this age of terror and division, there are literally signs of hope.