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Bulgarian mission staffand leaders included Sarah Rautman, BBYO
director, of Minneapolis; Lora Aladjem, BBYO director, of Sofia; mid-
dle row: Victor Melamed, BBYO assistant director in Sofia; students
Perry Teicher, 18, of West Bloomfield and Maxim Delchev, 15, of
Sofia; Michigan Region's Arnie Weiner; and rear, educator Victor
Haimov of Sofia.
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from Sofia and Plovdiv at the airport.
Together, this international group cel-
ebrated New Year's Eve and Shabbat.
They spent days sledding down
mountains, visiting museums and shop-
ping. They saw a special showing of an
award-winning film on Bulgaria and
met a poet whose father was the
Bulgarian ambassador to the United
States. His daughter belonged to
By the timethe trip was over, said
Zara, "Everyone was so close."
The U.S. group met their counter-
parts' families and prayed in the only
synagogue in Sofia, the Central
Synagogue. It is Europe's third largest
and visiting it was a moving experience
for the American teens:
"I felt a deeper connection to my reli-
gion," said Zara Teicher about her expe-
rience at the synagogue. "It's more
meaningful when I pray now ... It was
amazing. Even though we speak differ-
ent languages, we have this common
Jewish bond and could pray together
because of our common bond."
The Americans hosted a Shabbaton
for the Bulgarians and their families.
Each family was presented with a
chanukiah and candles.
"There are not a lot of ritual Jewish
objects in Bulgaria," Weiner said.
But most of the teens' parents grew
up under Communism, when Jewish
customs and ceremonies were not prac-
ticed in the home.
"BBYO prides itself on leadership
training and informal Jewish educa-
tion," Weiner said. "We're trying to
help Bulgarian kids forge a Jewish iden-
tity, especially at home. And the kids
have to teach their parents."
Though poor, the people of Bulgaria
have a great spirit and are proud of
their country, Weiner said, adding
that Jews seem very comfortable there.
With good reason.
During World War II, though
Bulgaria was a Nazi ally, King Boris
III kept the Jews out of death camps.
To protect them, the king told the
Gentians he needed Jews for building,
Weirier said. Bulgaria was the only
European country where the Jewish
population increased during the war.
Bulgaria's current foreign minister,
Solomon Pasi, is Jewish.
Though Bulgaria had a B'nai B'rith
Youth Organization before World War
II, "It was impossible for BBYO to
operate," Weiner said, after the
With the downfall of Communism
in 1989, American BBYO staff
returned to Bulgaria to look into reor-
Their mission was to bring Israeli
and American Jews to Bulgaria,
Weiner said, and to bring Bulgarian
BBYOers to the United States to
attend leadership training programs.
Israeli and American Jewish teens
will visit Bulgaria from March 9-19.
Another BBYO group will visit next
For his BBYO teens, Weiner has a
very particular vision. "I'd like our
students to see kids like them around
the world and feel a responsibility for
And, he hopes they understand "we
have an obligation to help Jews every-
where in the world." 1-1