Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Passover in Bulgaria

For various reasons, Ellis and I decided to stay in Bulgaria this year for Passover. This would be the first time in our lives that we didn’t celebrate the holiday with family, and we had to make a decision as to where we wanted to be for the Seder.

After much thought, we decided to go to the communal Seder at the Jewish Community Center, and share a table with friends. As a result, I also found myself without any preparations to make for the holiday. We can’t get special food here, and I don’t have a separate set of dishes (in any case, there’s absolutely no room for such a thing in my small kitchen), so we decided to make the best with what we have. I went to the Synagogue last week to buy matzo, which turned out to be very different than what we are used to – narrower and rectangular in shape, instead of square. I also had friends bring me matzo meal and matzo ball mix from Israel – this way I could make our traditional popovers, and of course, matzo ball soup.

With no preparations and cooking to do, I actually went and had a manicure on Monday afternoon before Seder – now this is really what I call freedom from slavery!

We arrived at the Community Center at around 8:00 PM, and the Seder started at 8:30. We figured that there were around 150 people present, mostly from the local Jewish community. Most of the participants were elderly, but there was also a nice turn-out from young people – it seemed that the middle generation (our age!) and the very young were not well represented.

The Rabbi from the synagogue led the Seder – this was his first time leading a Seder in Sofia. The Haggadah was printed in Hebrew, with a translation into Bulgarian, and also a transliteration of the Hebrew in Bulgarian script. The Rabbi led the Seder in Hebrew, but when he wanted to give explanations of the text, he spoke in English, and someone translated for him.

We all had small, individual Seder plates, with a hard-boiled egg, celery root for dipping in salt-water, “charoset”, lettuce for the bitter herbs (I missed my horseradish!) and 2 small matzo patties. The matzo was imported from France, and the kosher wine was from Austria. Our friend, Sima, also brought some of her own, home-made charoset, which we all enjoyed.


While we were waiting for the main course to be served, Shlomo, (our friend and Sima’s husband) passed out sheets with songs on them. Most of the locals didn’t know the songs, but there was a table with a large family from Israel who were visiting, and between their table and ours, we had a lot of fun singing.

Dinner was not your usual, big huge meal – we each got a plate with a piece of chicken (cold), potato salad and a sliced tomato. Dessert was apples and bananas. I guess this was one Jewish holiday that we didn’t come away from the table feeling like we all overate!


The second half of the Seder was finished quicker than the first half – at this point, most of the older people had left in any case. The community had bought small gifts for all the children present (for the Afikomen), which was a very nice touch.

We understood from Shlomo that the community had actually sent a portion of their congregants to smaller towns with small Jewish populations, to help them make a Seder together.

I was sorry that the local community weren’t more active during the Seder, and I was hoping to hear some different melodies than the ones that we’re used to, but, I don’t know how many of them had ever had a chance to actively have their own Seders, or if they always participated in community Seders, which were led according to the style of the present Rabbi. We did enjoy hearing Shlomo sing a different version of “Chad Gadya” – to a Syrian melody, which was very different than our traditional one.


We missed sharing the holiday with family, and our own traditions, but were glad that we still had a chance to be with friends, and also to add one more unusual experience to our growing list of experiences that we’ve had over the past 14 months.

Happy Passover everyone, and in the words of the Haggadah – NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!

3 comments:

  1. Looks like a lovely Pesach. The big question (for me) is: was there Breakstone's unsalted butter to go on that Matzo cracker?

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  2. Unfortunately, no. And the matzo wasn't as good as we were used to. Still, we had a lot of fun.

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