Purim Celebrations in Bulgaria Reverberate with Strength and Solidarity

March 3, 2015


When Jewish girls in Bulgaria dress up this week as Queen Esther, they’re not only reenacting Purim’s ancient tale of rescue – they are commemorating the fact that their own community was saved from extinction at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. It is the stuff of legend and great pride for Bulgarian Jews, who also have a local connection to the universal lesson of the Jews of Sushan, that remarkable things are possible when we stand together – even the renaissance of a Jewish community that was dormant for 45 years.

To see Bulgaria’s inclusive, active community of 6,000 Jews now, one would hardly imagine that four and a half decades passed with no sign of Jewish life and no possibility of developing a Jewish identity before Communism fell in 1990. But today, with help from JDC, the building blocks of a community are back in place, including a series of successful children’s summer camps, yearly Limmud grassroots study opportunities, and leadership programs for youth and young adults.

JDC has also been helping Bulgaria’s Jewish community aid those members hardest-hit by the country’s ongoing economic struggles as the poorest member of the European Union.

Despite these fierce challenges, and the rising tide of terror, political extremism, and anti-Semitism highlighted by events in Paris and Copenhagen, the resilient Bulgarian Jewish community is embracing its heritage and the Purim holiday’s spirit of togetherness.

“I love Purim because I love to see the Jewish community gather in a big hall full with Esthers and Mordechais – people that understand the importance of belonging, people that understand the meaning of being together,” said JDC Director Julia Dandolova, “especially in a moment when we as Jews in Europe can hear the voices of Haman who are continuing to threaten us today.”

This year the capital city of Sofia is offering three Purim celebrations: a children’s day of fairy tales, costumes, and games organized by 20 of their counselors – who were trained at the JDC/Lauder Szarvas camp and local programs – and two others that will engage the community’s middle generation and youth in thematic celebrations. And at the request of smaller but extremely enthusiastic Jewish communities, volunteers dispatched from Sofia are traveling north to organize a Purim program in Russe, and south to manage children’s festivals in the towns of Sliven, Yambol, and Stara Zagora.

These festive gatherings point to something miraculous for Maxim Delchev, an active member of Bulgaria’s Jewish community. “When I was a little boy I believed in miracles, but my parents tried to convince me that they do not exist…. Years later I found my Jewish identity and experienced Purim – and I realized that miracles continually happen. They happened to Mordechai and Esther; they happened with my grandparents in 1943 when the Bulgarian Jews were saved; they happen today,” he said.

This week’s celebrations are a much-needed reminder of that. “For one week we can forget how difficult our reality is and all the other problems we have and the only thing we have to deal with is what costume to choose, so we can remember,” said Delchev. “If there is something that my parents were wrong about, it was that miracles do not exist. Because I live in one – the miracle of the Jewish community.”

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