By Margo Hellman
After a seven-hour bus ride from Romania to Bulgaria, our group was well-rested and ready to take on Sofia!! After we checked into our hotel, we took a quick walk across the street to the JCC and met with the the CEO of the Local Organization of Jews (Queen of Bulgaria), Julia Dandolova.
Later, we went on a walking tour of Sofia, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. Our tour guide was amazing and taught us so many things about the historic city of Sofia. Sofia is considered a layered city with six centuries of architecture existing beneath the city grounds.
We visited the Square of Tolerance, which was given this name because of its many different places of worship, including a gorgeous mosque right in the center of the city! On the tour, we saw the old Sofia bathhouse, which is now a museum. There we got the opportunity to drink some of Sofia’s mineral water, which supposedly has ~healing powers~! It tasted like day-old water, but day-old water with healing powers.
We ended the night with dinner at a beautiful traditional Bulgarian restaurant. There were roses everywhere and a chandelier made of yarn! The food was great & I tried yummy grapes leaves stuffed with rice and a nice cool glass of white wine. Dinner lasted about three and a half hours, but included a special Bulgarian dance group that performed a traditional Bulgarian dance!!
Our second day here in Bulgaria has got to be my favorite day on the trip so far. We started off the day with a quick tour of the JCC and some laughing yoga!
On this day, we had our third home visit of the trip, where Ben Schenberg, Logan Cole and I enjoyed the company of an 80-year-old woman named Ida. During World War II, her and her father were on the trains in Bulgaria, ready to be deported to the concentration camps. They were stuck on the train for two days, unaware of what was happening outside of the cart.
Little did they know, during those two days, protests were going on in front of the tracks, keeping the trains from setting out on their journey to Poland. Many communities supported the Jews and tried to stop the train from deporting, including the Christian clergy who stood up for the Jews and said what was happening was inhumane. The head priest of the Greek Orthodox Church went so far as to physically jump onto the tracks and said if the Jews go, the high priests go. People stood up for us solely because they knew what was happening was wrong.
After coming back together as a group, we started our third Core Conversation. This one focused on a quote from the Talmud, “All Jews are responsible for one another.”
We talked about what connects us to other Jews, and how no matter what, we will stand up and help one another. I have grown up in a family that I feel embodies the statement from the Talmud. I feel so lucky to have been chosen to go on this trip and be able to talk to these people and hear their stories. I am humbled.
After a short bit of free time, we traveled to the Moishe House of Sofia for Shabbat dinner. There, we enjoyed pizza and salad while getting to know the Bulgarian Jews who live there. Alec, one of the Moishe House residents, told me his favorite part of living there was getting to live a more Jewish life than he would have if he lived on his own.