Monday, September 15, 2014

From Bulgaria to the Promised Land, Brazil

Escaping from internment in a Bulgarian labor camp during World War Two, a Jewish man makes a better life for his family in the Amazon.

One of the earliest memories that Licco Hazan retains from his childhood is the assassination attempt on Bulgarian ruler Tsar Boris III, a bombing which destroyed the Sveta Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia in 1925. Licco, a member of a proud Jewish family, traced his origins to Toledo in Spain, five hundred years earlier. His grandfather was the cantor at the Sofia Synagogue, a profession which gave the family their name. Life was not easy for the Hazans at the beginning of the 20th century, nor was it an easy time for Bulgaria. Things would get much harder.

In 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis and officially entered World War II. Under pressure from Germany, the fascists who took control of Bulgaria planned to deport the country's Jews to the concentration camps in Poland. Bulgarian citizens and clergy rose up in protest, thwarting these plans. Still, Licco Hazan and his brother were rounded up and interned in a labor camp, where they were given back-breaking tasks.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Israeli Actor Moni Moshonov Stars in Oscar-Bound Bulgarian Film

Moni Moshonov
The film Bulgarian Rhapsody, a Bulgarian-Israeli production directed by Ivan Nichev, was selected by  Bulgaria's National Council for Cinema to be its country's contender in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Oscar Academy Awards. The film, detailing the rescue of Bulgaria's Jewish citizens during World War Two, stars Israeli actor Moni Moshonov

Moshonov, who was born in Sofia in 1951 and moved to Israel with his family at the age of four, is well known for his hosting of the popular satirical TV show Zehu Ze!, first on Israeli Educational Television and then on Channel 2. In addition to his many comic roles, Moshonov has appeared frequently on the stage in Cameri, Habima and Beit Lessin theatrical productions. His film roles include Hatuna Meuheret (Late Marriage, 2001), for which he won the Israeli Film Academy Award for best supporting actor.

Moshonov's role in Bulgarian Rhapsody is his first in a Bulgarian language film.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I Couldn't Believe What I Saw Out My Sarajevo Hotel Window

My wife and I arrived in Sarajevo in June, as part of our tour of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were eager to visit a city rich in history, culture, and religious diversity.

Our trip to Sarajevo coincided with the one hundred year anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria - the shot that sparked World War I. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984; the city suffered heavily while under siege during Bosnia's war for independence, 1992-1995. The Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated Hebrew manuscript dating to the 14th century and considered the most valuable book in the world is housed in Bosnia's National Museum, which has been closed since late 2012 due to lack of funding. So much history!

Before we had a chance to see the city, we enjoyed a cultural experience that took us quite by surprise. Who would have imagined that the most colorful part of our visit to the Bosnian capital would be seen by looking out our hotel window?

Read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Interview with Bulgaria Now

I was invited by Lance Nelson to be a guest on his weekly podcast show, Bulgaria Now. Lance is the founder of the extremely successful Bansko Blog. The Bansko Blog reflects Lance's passion for Bulgaria, for its outdoor life, the mountains, and in particular, the winter ski season. The blog also posts articles on topics ranging from property ownership in Bulgaria, to Lance's travels around the country.

In my Bulgaria Now interview, I talk about my book, Valley of Thracians, my experiences in Bulgaria and what it was like to be under rocket attack in Israel.

In addition, I field a range of random questions. Listen to the podcast and you'll learn what excites me, what book I am looking forward to reading, and whether I am a beer person or a wine person. Enjoy!

You can listen to all the Bulgaria Now podcasts by clicking here. Subscribe to all the podcasts on Soundcloud, iTunes, Overcast or Stitcher.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

10 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Bulgaria

Bulgaria? Why visit Bulgaria? Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with majestic mountains, sandy beaches, picturesque villages, good food, and hospitable people. And, it's incredibly affordable.

If you don't know anything about Bulgaria, here are ten reasons you should visit.

1. Roses - Bulgarian roses are not only stunningly beautiful, but a major export item as well. The petals reportedly produce as much as 85% of the world's rose oil, an essential ingredient in the production of perfumes. Gathering the roses is very labor intensive. Visit the country in May and June to see the colorful harvest.

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bringing Gilad Shalit home

The Negotiator by Gershon Baskin offers a behind the scenes look at the negotiations that brought Israel's soldier home from Hamas captivity.

On June 25, 2006, Palestinian terrorists made their way through a tunnel from the Gaza Strip and attacked an IDF post near the border. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and another two were wounded; two of the Palestinians were also killed. Gilad Shalit*, lightly injured in the attack, was dragged back into Gaza through the tunnel.

This scenario sounds eerily familiar, after the recent attempts by Hamas terrorists to penetrate into Israel and strike at army posts and kibbutzim, actions which led to the loss of several Israeli lives. During Operation Protective Edge, it was believed Hamas was striving to achieve a "quality" attack, in which they could kidnap Israeli soldiers for use as future bargaining chips.

When Gilad was captured, Dr. Gershon Baskin, founder of an Israeli-Palestinian think tank and veteran of peace process talks, immediately launched informal talks with Hamas officials. In particular, Baskin communicated with Ghazi Hamad - initially the spokesperson for the Hamas government and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. With Israel and Hamas refusing to openly negotiate with each other, the two believed that they could help compose the principles that would lead to a prisoner exchange between the sides.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Incident with My Wife's Birthday Present

I asked my wife one week before her birthday what she would like to receive as a gift. "Perfume," was her reply.

A few days later, my wife called me to say that she had just purchased her birthday present, and hoped that this was okay with me.

I felt relieved, knowing that I would not have been able to select a suitable scent. Perfume comes in a wide variety of fragrances; it's something that one should choose for oneself, I thought. (Author's note: my wife and I have a stable enough marriage that surprising each other with gift selection is not necessary. Birthdays are a time to celebrate; after all, it's the thought that counts.)

"I put it in the computer room," she informed me that evening. And that's the last I thought about the purchase. Little did I know, at the time, what would happen to that bottle of perfume.