BULGARIA - THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
JewishGen's ShtetlSeeker references border changes to locate a given town. JewishGen has other references regarding the Jewish community. Bulgaria is bordered by the Black Sea, Romania and Turkey. Slightly larger than Tennessee. Jews represent 0.8% ot the population of about 8.2 million. Bulgaria has nine provinces (oblasti, singular - oblast) Burgas, Grad Sofiya, Khaskovo, Lovech, Montana, Plovdiv, Ruse, Sofiya and Varna.[February 2009]
The Bulgarian Jewish community may have existed since destruction of the First Temple with Jews arriving via Asia Minor. A Jewish settlement existed in Macedonia at the time of Caligula (37-41 C.E. Coins from the Bar Kochba revolt found in the area suggest that Jewish slaves arrived after the failure of the revolt in 132-5 CE. Additionally, a stela from the village of Gigen in the Sofia museum, is inscribed "Yosefus archiesynagogus", or Joseph, head of the synagogue. A mosaic floor from a second or third century synagogue in Plovdiv is further evidence. Theodosius I's decree to the governors of Thrace and Illyria in 379 persecuted Jews in these areas with synagogues destroyed.
Three distinct communities developed: Greek-speaking Romaniots, fleeing Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal, and Ashkenazi Jews. By the seventeenth century, most of these Jews followed Sephardic ritual and tradition. Turkish, Spanish and Greek influences joined Eastern Europe sources such as Poland and Hungary to create Jewish Bulgaria. In 1335 the Bulgar King Johann Alexander married a Jewish woman, Sarah, who reigned as Queen Theodora.The central rabbinical court exercised authority over beit din in Sofia, Plovdiv, and Rushchuk (now Ruse). "The Jewish community of Bulgaria survived the Holocaust intact. Immediately following World War II, however, approximately ninety percent of Bulgaria's 50,000 Jews immigrated to Israel. Those who remained found their lives and institutions controlled by the Communist Party; religious life during this period was almost eradicated. The reign of Communism also greatly damaged the community's art treasures: grand synagogues were abandoned or appropriated and valuable sacred and ritual objects were sold or plundered." Since the fall of Communism, the Jewish community revived in Sofia and Plovdiv. Today some 5,000 Jews make up the Jewish community that, with the aid of new legislation, reclaimed several properties. Source: Center for Jewish Art that has much information about Jewish art and artifacts as well as synagogues in Samokov, Pazardzik, Varna, and Plovdiv (Philipopolis) in Macedonia with photos. [February 2009]
See The Virtual Jewish History Tour for detailed Bulgarian Jewish history links and history text. [February 2009]
Shalom Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, successor to the Social and Cultural Organization of Jews in Bulgaria: Beit Ha'am: 50 Stambolijski, Sophia. telephone: 001-359-2-926-5301, fax: 359-2-981-1139. The Beit Ha'am houses many Jewish organizations including the Joint Distribution Committee--Bulgaria. (359-2-981-4332). The Jewish Old Age Home at 18 Kojuh Planina, telephone: 359-2-865-0513 is part of the services. [February 2009]
Sofia Central Synagogue and Museum at 16 Exarkh Yosif, telephone: 359-2-983-1273.At the intersection of Todor Alexandrov and Hristo Botev Boulevards at the Tel Aviv-Yafo Square. Dedicated in October 2002.
Next to Bulgaria's parliament building in Sofia lies a trapezoidal bronze plaque on a granite base that serves to commemorate the non-Jewish Bulgarians and parliamentarians who worked to stop the deportation of 8,500 Bulgarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps. Towns that had Jewish population in Bulgaria in the past that may have burial sites: