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Roundup: Events in April-May 2018

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April 2018 was another eventful month for the Bulgarian Jewish community and the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, especially with the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel and the marking of Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaShoah.

Even before the month began, on March 30 and 31, “Shalom”, along with the Sofia Religious Council of the Jews, organised two Seder dinners, held in Sofia Central Synagogue and attended in total by about 200 people. Senior citizen members of the Bulgarian Jewish community had their treat at a Seder dinner at “Shalom’s” Jerusalem Hall on April 5, with about 150 people in attendance. The same evening, in a first for Bulgaria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva hosted a Seder dinner, co-organised by “Shalom”, at the ministry’s headquarters in Sofia. Guests at this latter event included a represenative of the World Jewish Congress, senior political leaders, diplomats, municipal leaders, representatives of other faiths, and leaders of the Jewish communities in Greece, the Republic of Macedonia and Serbia.

At a ceremony in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Bourgas on April 11, awards were given in an essay competition towards which “Shalom” donated financial support and which was organised by the Alef Centre for Bulgarian-Jewish Co-operation. At the events in the city on that day, which were attended by Irit Lilian, Ambassador of the State of Israel, “Shalom’s” book, “75 Years. Unforgotten Faces of the Rescue” was presented. Seven days later, the book also was presented at an event in Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv, and was also presented in Stara Zagora on April 20, in co-operation with the regional organisation of “Shalom” in the city.

In co-operation with the Sofia branch of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, “Shalom” held a solemn commemoration ceremony for Yom HaShoah on April 11 at Jerusalem Hall, attended by about 70 people. Addressing the ceremony, Eli Anavi, chairperson of the Sofia Regional Organization of “Shalom”, said: Today, we in Europe face the rise of a new scourge of anti-Semitism, including even of Holocaust denial, including even here in Bulgaria idolisation of the pro-Nazi general Lukov. We, the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” again express our thanks again to all who stand with in resisting the attempts at rewriting history to skew the truth, and all who stand with us against intolerance and in the name of true tolerance”.

On April 13, there was a lively celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, at the 134th School “Dimcho Debelyanov” in Sofia, carried out in co-operation with the Embassy of Israel and the Negev Organisation of Friends of Israel in Bulgaria. Six days later, at the Gan Balagan children’s centre, there were lively times too for the children, with birthday hats, and sweetest of all, a birthday cake for Israel and for all.

A delegation from “Shalom” travelled to Dupnitsa, about 75km from Sofia, on April 17 for the unveiling of a plaque paying tribute to the help that the people of the town gave to Jews in terrible distress as they were transport by train to the death camps. The railway station was a transit point for Jews from the “new lands” in northern Greece and Yugoslavia, under Bulgarian administration at the time of the Nazi regime. The plaque, put up by the Dupnitsa regional organization of the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom” reads that is a sign of tribute “to the people of Dupnitsa who saved their Jewish fellow citizens from deportation in 1943 and eased the sufferings of 4000 Jew from Greek Thrace who passed through Dupnitsa in transit to the Nazi death camps. This shall never be forgotten!”. Following the unveiling ceremony at the railway station, regional and national leaders of “Shalom” were hosted at the municipal headquarters by Dupnitsa Mayor Metodi Chimev. Leonid Hazdai, head of the Dupnitsa organisation of “Shalom” spoke of the traditions of tolerance, while senior members of the Bulgarian Jewish community, those from the town, shared deeply moving recollections of the events of their youth (for more about the history of the Jewish community in Dupnitsa, please see ‘Notes from History’, elsewhere in this bulletin).

On April 17, at “Shalom’s” Jerusalem Hall, leaders of “Shalom” joined with the Negev Association of Friends of Israel in Bulgaria and the Embassy of Israel in marking Yom Hazikaron, lighting a candle in memory of the military personnel who died in the fight for independence and in defence of the State of Israel, as well as in memory of the victims of terrorism. Those participating in the ceremony included Israeli Ambassador Irit Lilian, “Shalom” President Dr Alexander Oscar and Negev chairperson Nikolai Galabov. Ten-year-old Leah Todorova impressed all present with her performance of the song “Lu Yehi” (‘Let it be’) by Naomi Schumer, about the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The sequence of Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations continued on April 19 at Shalom’s Jerusalem Hall, with a joyous evening of song and dance, with a performance by “Shalom’s” dance group Keren Shemesh.

At a ceremony on April 16, ownership of the building of the Synagogue in the town of Samokov was transferred to the municipality from the Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”. The two-storey, Balkan-style synagogue was built in 1861, an eight-metre edifice, to a plan was based on that of Bet Amikdasha, the temple in Jerusalem . Windows with iron rosettes were brought in from Plovdiv. At the door, a plaque recorded the names of the donors: Jeuda, Gavriel and Abraham Arié and the Cohen family. It was to survive intact until severely damaged by a fire in the 1980s. The transfer is conditional on the implementation of a project to restore the building to its original form, which will subsequently function as a cultural centre.

Other public engagements in the course of April 2018 included the attendance by “Shalom” President Dr Alexander Oscar and Chief Executive Julia Dandolova in Warsaw of commemorations organised by the World Jewish Congress of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and public statements prompted by topical issues. These included a statement by “Shalom” clarifying its stance on contemporary anti-Semitism in Bulgaria, as a sequel to a report by the US State Department on the matter, and challenging a disturbing reference to the World Jewish Congress by the head of Bulgaria’s specialised anti-corruption prosecutor’s office Ivan Geshev following the high-profile arrest of a Sofia district mayor in connection with alleged corruption.

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