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Map Source: People Group location: World Jewish Congress, Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
|People Name:||Jew, Bulgarian|
|Primary Religion:||Ethnic Religions|
|Christian Adherents:||0.50 %|
|Online Audio NT:||No|
Archaeologists have uncovered Jewish religious relics in Bulgaria dating from the 2nd century AD. By the 9th century Jewish communities are documented, and in 1335 the Bulgarian King Johann Alexander married a Jewish woman, Sarah, who reigned as Queen Theodora.
In 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain, some settled in Bulgaria. They brought with them their Latin language and culture. In time, the Spanish Jews outnumbered the native population and the two groups intermarried. The Jews of Bulgaria became known as Sephardic, and they were not religious. Prior to WWII, about 48,000 Jews lived in thirty-two communities in Bulgaria. About eighty percent of Jewish children attended Jewish schools. When the war was imminent, Bulgaria cooperated with the Nazis. At one point, Hitler wanted to move all of Sofia’s Jews to border cities, making it easier to deport them. The Eastern Orthodox priests said, "if the Jews go, they’d go, too." The Jewish people applauded and so did many other Bulgarians. The order was delayed, the war ended, and 50,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved! Regardless of this, after the war, all but 5,000 of Bulgaria’s Jews made Aliyah to Israel. Many of those who remained attempted to hide their Jewish identify. Their children did not know their Jewish heritage.
Because of emigration and assimilation, the elderly account for a large percent of the estimated 2,000 Jews living in Bulgaria. Jewish education has recently experienced resurgence on both a formal and informal level. In 1997, The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation became a major sponsor and partner of the Jewish school in Sofia. The Foundation provided repair and renovation of the school building and created modern classrooms. The school has received the status of a public school teaching Hebrew as a first foreign language. The purpose of the organization is to educate their students in the principles of Judaism, Sephardic Jewish traditions and customs of the Jewish life cycle, Jewish holidays and calendar along with other required subjects to meet the educational standards for Bulgaria.
Younger Jewish Bulgarians have succeeded well in the areas of professional positions especially in education, business, science, research and the arts. Some have advanced in skilled vocations such as hotel workers; industry, construction and a few are living in small rural communities and working in agriculture. Although their population is small, they have succeeded in publishing.
They are becoming closer as a people as they grow stronger spiritually. With religious intermarriages, Judaism is slowly becoming a choice of Bulgarian couple’s decision in raising their children.
Many of Bulgaria’s Jewish children are attending Jewish summer camps where they learn about their heritage. Teenagers are active in programs to help the poor in their community.
Bulgarian Jews who are living in other parts of the world tend to be more secular than they are in Bulgaria. Although there is a revival of Jewish education in Bulgaria, there are still only two functioning synagogues in Bulgaria. These are in Sofia and Plovdiv. They hold services on Shabbat, but most Jews only congregate on important Jewish holidays.
Israel has sent an orthodox Rabbi to teach Bulgarian men how to teach and lead their people in the synagogues hoping to see the growth of new synagogues. There have been a few Reform Rabbis who are also having an impact in Bulgaria.
There is a great opening for the Christ followers to reach out to the Bulgarian Jewish people. Although the population is small, these Jewish people keep close connections with families and friends who have immigrated, especially to Israel. If they become Messianic believers, they can become a powerful witness to the others who have left Bulgaria.
There is a serious weakness in the Bulgarian Church, especially the Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox Bulgarians are not observant, and many are atheists. Despite some resurgence of interest in religious observance since the fall of state socialism, religious practices have become largely markers of cultural identity.
Pray that strong, Bible believing followers of Christ will commit themselves to befriending and leading Bulgarian Jewish people to understanding that Jesus is their Messiah.
Pray that Bulgarian Jews will be open to reading and accepting the Old Testament and learning the glorious way that God worked through the Jewish people and prophets to fulfill his promises of salvation for all nations.
Pray for revival in the Bulgarian Churches so they will be a light to the Jewish Bulgarians.
Pray that anti-Semitic actions will be stopped in Bulgaria.