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Bulgaria Update #3

Posted on 07/07/2011 @ 06:09 PM

Tags: Bulgaria

Zdraveyte (Hello) BBYO’s Ambassador to Bulgaria Parents!

Happy 4th of July from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria! We’ve had some extraordinary experiences since our last email. We traveled from Veliko Turnovo to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city and the home of one of the two Bulgaria BBYO chapters. After getting dressed into our finest Shabbat attire and taking some pictures, some of which you can find on our Smugmug Album, We had the unique opportunity to attend Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat services at Plovdiv’s synagogue. The community, which is primarily Sephardi, welcomed us with open arms and was overjoyed that we joined them. We ate Shabbat dinner back at the hotel, ran meaningful Shabbat programs including sharing stories and an open forum during which trip participants were able to ask each other questions and make comments that were on their mind, and celebrated the birthday of Alex Meyer (chestit rojden den! – that’s how one says “happy birthday!” in Bulgarian…we had celebrated the birthday of Kevin Sloan earlier in the week).

On Saturday morning, some of the American teen participants led Shabbat services for the group, and found this to be a particularly meaningful interaction with their Bulgarian, Serbian, Albanian, and Macedonian peers. After services, we walked to the Old City of Plovdiv and divided into small groups to explore sights like the amphitheater and have lunch. Then we walked to the JCC in Plovdiv where we were welcomed by the head of the Jewish community. We set up the room with tables and chairs and decorative tablecloths for dinner and prepared dinner by washing, peeling, and cutting cucumbers and tomatoes (we have had a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes here!). We also ordered in a lot of delicious Bulgarian pizza! That evening, we had the dinner that we prepared with Holocaust survivors from the Plovdiv Jewish community. They told us their stories, about life in Bulgaria over the last 80 or 90 years, how they were not deported to death camps thanks to Bulgarian resistance to deporting their Jews, about life under communism, and about life in modern Bulgaria. It was an inspiring experience that many of the participants will take with them – and they will now be true ambassadors in America to share with you, with friends, and others the stories that they heard.

After havdalah on Saturday night, we traveled from Plovdiv to Sofia, Bulgaria’s beautiful capital city. On Sunday, we took a bus tour of Sofia, and went to the mall for lunch and some shopping. Afterwards, we spent some time at Sofia’s Military Museum where we took several pictures posing in front of tanks, planes, howitzers, helicopters, missiles, and other military equipment from the Bulgarian Army (which fought with the Soviets until 1989). On Sunday evening, we participated in a program teaching everybody about BBYO in Bulgaria, and then had an amazing quiz competition in teams trying to solve the answer to Bulgaria BBYO and Jewish trivia questions. At our group reflection and sharing circle, we discussed how the interaction with the Holocaust survivors in Plovdiv affected us and how we will bring the experience home to America.

This morning, we began our second day in Sofia by visiting the stunning Sofia Synagogue, which was built in 1909. We learned about the synagogue - discovering that the chandelier in the main prayer hall is the largest in the entire country (weighing over 1 ton!). We had the opportunity to see the Jewish museum in the synagogue as well, and learn more about Sephardi Jewish culture and traditions. We also had the opportunity to prepare and cook our own borekas! (and eat them later on!) At the entrance of the synagogue, two women were selling kippahs, challah covers, and other Judaica made by hand by elderly Jewish residents of Sofia – some of the teens will be bringing home kippahs made in Bulgaria! After separating again into small groups, we explored Sofia by foot, got some Bulgarian souvenirs, had lunch in town, and then met back at the old JCC in Sofia where we learned about the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC or “The Joint”) and their projects in Bulgaria. We even had the opportunity to hear from Julia Dandolova, the JDC Director in Bulgaria! We were then back onto the streets for The Amazing Race of Sofia! Small teams had to race around Sofia with clues hinting where they should go. With the help of Bulgarian teammates, every team completed the race and finished together.

We are about to head to a 4th of July “America Party” to celebrate the USA’s 235’s birthday! (remember how to say “Happy Birthday” in Bulgarian from above?)

Wishing you all a fun and meaningful 4th of July from Sofia, Bulgaria!

Amanda and Ira

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