The New Generation Leads Jewish Renewal in Bulgaria

February 7, 2012


Martin Levy remembers his first time wearing a kippa and saying the Hamotzi on Shabbat. He was 11 years old, attending his first Jewish summer camp session in Kovachevtsi, Bulgaria.

“My counselors showed me how to be Jewish; they gave me the tools and encouraged my eagerness, making it natural for me.”

Because Martin’s family is not observant, the community became his second home. Today he is 23, a law school graduate, and on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Community of Sofia.

Just one generation ago, Jewish life in Bulgaria and throughout much of Europe and the former Soviet Union had been nearly silenced by decades of Communism and the preceding war years; today Martin is among thousands of young people growing up practicing Judaism openly in renascent Jewish communities across the region.

Martin’s coming-of-age included attending Jewish kindergarten, going to Sunday school, and getting involved in the youth movement. But it wasn’t until he attended JDC’s International Summer Camp at Szarvas, Hungary, as a teenager that he “discovered there were Jews who lived outside of Israel and Bulgaria!”

His camp experience was so pronounced that Martin became a madrich (counselor) himself. “In a world where we are totally integrated in society, many of us are children of mixed marriages, and our parents don’t have the knowledge to build Jewish life in our homes, the camps are the places creating future Jewish children.”

Martin has participated in a number of the JDC-supported education and training opportunities available to the enthusiastic young generation thirsty for Jewish knowledge, tradition, and interconnectedness in this part of the world — and now he is giving back.

For the past four years he has volunteered as an organizer of JDC’s Weinberg Gesher Regional Young Leaders’ Institute, an initiative that connects, educates, and empowers thousands of Jewish youth across Europe to become the leaders of tomorrow.

And at home in Sofia, Martin is actively committed to his community’s future. “This community has changed over time from a place where you were only going to get support in difficult times to a place where we also meet our Jewish brothers and sisters, practice our Judaism, and feel part of the Jewish people,” Martin says. “We want to make sure everyone who comes to the community has a great first encounter with Judaism, that they can taste every single delicious bite of being Jewish.”

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