The President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Roumen Radev, and other politicians joined the Jewish congregation of Sofia for its Hannukah celebration at the Central Synagogue on Sunday evening. As a relatively new President, this was Radev’s first participation in the main Hanukkah ceremony.

In his speech Radev said the Bulgarian Jews had always stood by their compatriots for a free and strong Bulgaria. The salvation of the Bulgarian Jews in 1943 had not been a coincidence, the President stated.

US Ambassador Eric Rubin (left) with Shalom’s President Alexander Oscar. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

“If extreme nationalist and extremist political perceptions try to steal our lives, rewrite our history, or infect our children with hatred, then I assure you that we will be together again in the struggle for good and justice”, Radev told the Jewish congregation of Sofia.

“In the days of Hanukkah, candlesticks placed on windows sills do not only illuminate Jewish homes. Their light shows us that our greatest miracle of living together in peace, reciprocity, and understanding is in our hands”, Roumen Radev said.

The head of Shalom, the organisation of the Jews of Bulgaria, Dr. Alexander Oscar, thanked Radev for coming and therefore continuing the tradition of Bulgarian Presidents lighting Hanukkah candles at Sofia’s synagogue.

Alexander Oscar also said, the attention of Europe and the world would be directed to Bulgaria in 2018, because of the country’s turn at the EU Presidency, but also because of the 75th anniversary of the events which occurred in 1943.

Back then, the deportation of the Bulgarian Jews to Nazi Germany’s death camps was avoided, thanks to courageous Bulgarians, among them Christian Orthodox priests and other non-Jewish citizens. At the same time, thousands of Jews from Thrace and Macedonia were deported. They were transported through Bulgarian territory and murdered by the Nazis.

Dr. Oscar stated, Bulgaria had learned its lessons from the past and was ready to look forward to a bright future, in which Bulgarians would stand together in order to defend the good name of their country. He appealed to everyone to work for a better world of peace and understanding.

Israel’s Ambassador to Bulgaria, Irit Lillian, was also part of the ceremony. So was Eric Rubin, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Bulgaria.

Selfies with President Radev were very popular. Photo by Imanuel Marcus.

After the ceremony, President Radev talked to congregation members. The head of state also became part of quite a few selfies.

In Judaism, Hannukah, the holiday of lights, celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in the year 167 BC. During several decades of communism in Bulgaria, neither the Bulgarian Jews nor other religious communities were allowed to practice their religions.

Photo at top of page by Imanuel Marcus.