My wife and I lived for two years in Sofia, Bulgaria. On a number of occasions we visited the Sofia Central Synagogue and each time we were amazed at the beauty of the building. The synagogue, opened to the public in 1909 in a ceremony attended by the Bulgarian Tsar, has been fully renovated and restored. In September, 2009, we were present at its 100th Year Anniversary with Bulgaria’s president seated a few rows ahead of me.
I never noticed a photographer capturing shots of the historic occasion from the balcony above, but he was from Vagabond, Bulgaria’s only English language magazine. The picture he snapped is now on the cover of A Guide to Jewish Bulgaria, just published by Vagabond Media. If you look closely you can see my balding head and white kippa, just visible above the word “everyone” on the book’s cover.
The book is designed “as a journey through both territory and time” and it fulfills its mission by giving a history of the Jews in Bulgaria, and then taking the reader on a tour of Jewish sites around the country.
For those not familiar with Bulgaria’s history it will come as quite a surprise to learn that the country’s entire Jewish population, numbering nearly 50,000 individuals, was spared the horrors of the Holocaust, even thought the government had officially sided with the Nazis. The book mentions the many claims of credit for the heroic rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. Due to lack of a definite answer, most Bulgarians today claim that Bulgaria’s Jews were “saved as the result of the efforts of the whole nation.”
Although most of Bulgaria’s Jews made aliya to Israel in the years following World War Two, the country remains a warm home to its remaining Jews, about 6,000 in total, and to those who come to search for their Jewish roots.
The book guides readers to the various cities, where, unfortunately not much remains of Bulgaria’s Jewish heritage. The pictures, though, tell the story, with full color displays of abandoned Jewish cemeteries alongside photos of Jewish youth celebrating Hanukka in Sofia.
The book will serve an important role for anyone interested in learning about Jewish heritage in Bulgaria.