Bulgaria Blooms


by S. Olidort - SOFIA, BULGARIA

October 9, 2002

For the better part of the last half-century, Bulgaria’s Jewish population (12,000) has not had the benefit of educational and social institutions so integral to Jewish communal life. Spared the worst of WWII’s ravages only to fall under the communist regime, many of Bulgaria’s Jews emigrated to Israel in the decades since, bringing Jewish activity to a standstill in this once thriving center of Sephardic Jewry.

But as the country seeks to gain membership in the European Union, re-establishing itself as a player in the world economy, Jewish life has seen its own resurgence in Bulgaria. In just two years since the arrival of Rabbi Yosi and Tamar Solomon, Chabad’s full time representatives to Sofia, participation in Jewish life has grown dramatically, prompting the purchase and renovation of a six story building to replace the small apartment that served as the center of Chabad activities up until now.

The Solomons have created a dynamic range of programs reaching many of the capital city’s Jews (5,000). Working out of their small rented apartment, they’ve developed various educational and social programs, and conduct weekly Jewish studies classes exploring the fundamentals of Judaism, the weekly Torah portion, and Chasidic philosophy.

The Solomons are also reaching many of the country’s Jews in some of the more remote cities, among them Plovdiv, Yanbul, and Starasgova. More than 2,000 Jewish people participated in any of Chabad’s nine seders, and some 500 of Sofia’s Jews turned out for an inspirational Lag B’Omer bonfire last May.

The new $600,000 facilities, purchased with the generous support of the Rohr Family Foundation, provides comfortable quarters for the 80 children enrolled in the new Ohr Avner kindergarten and Sunday school. The building will also house a synagogue and a well-stocked Jewish library, in addition to a kosher restaurant and grocery. And with many of Bulgaria’s Jewish population below the poverty line, Chabad is launching a food care package program to provide the city’s poor with Shabbat food parcels each week.

At the core of all the programs and projects they plan so meticulously, says Rabbi Solomon, is the underlying message that, “each Jew is a world on his own, and also an essential part of the entire Jewish nation.”

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