eJewish Philanthropy Focuses on Bulgaria’s Jewish Community

Coinciding with the 35th anniversary of Limmud, the site eJewish Philanthropy wrote about Jewish life in Bulgaria, past and present. Joseph Benatov contributed the following brief historical overview of Bulgaria’s Jewish history:

“Bulgaria’s oldest Jewish settlements date back to Roman times (and these Jews are known as Romaniot). Starting in the 1300s, Ashkenazi Jews began settling in the area. But the major turning point in Bulgaria’s Jewish history occurred after the 1492 Spanish Expulsion, when large numbers of Sephardi Jews arrived to the Ottoman Empire and founded communities throughout the Balkans. Over the next centuries, the Romaniot and Ashkenazim gradually assimilated into the Sephardi majority, and Sephardic culture – songs, cuisine, Ladino, customs, and folklore – has defined the Jewish community over the last 500 years.

Before WWII, the community numbered 49,000 Jews. As a German ally, Bulgaria deported over 11,000 Jews from occupied territories in Yugoslav Macedonia and Northern Greece to their death. At the same time, the Bulgarian government successfully resisted German pressures to deport the Bulgarian Jews, and the whole community survived the war. Many Bulgarian intellectuals, politicians, and church officials acted bravely in defense of the Jews. Between 1948 and 1950, about 42,000 Bulgarian Jews immigrated to Israel – including Shulamit Shamir, wife of Israel’s seventh Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir. After 1989, another 1,500 made aliyah.

Contemporary Jewish life in Bulgaria is very lively. There are two active synagogues – in the capital Sofia, where most of the 5,000 Jews live, and in Plovdiv, home to the second-largest community. Year-round, there is a wide spectrum of Jewish programming for members of all age groups.”

You can read the whole article here.