Young Adult Jewish Life Blossoms in Sofia

21801-3by Sarah Eisenman and Alejandro Okret

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Europe’s Jewish revival today is the stuff of headlines in Poland and Hungary, often framed through the lens of contemporary anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. But in the Balkans, a little known, two millennia-old Jewish community has emerged from the shadows of earlier communist and facist rule to blossom with new and growing opportunities for Jewish life.

Just this summer, that community proudly held its first public Jewish street festival, which drew thousands of people and was covered extensively by local media. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Bulgaria, a cultural crossroads in Europe and home to a robust Jewish community of more than 7,000. As part of the Jewish renaissance in this country, Moishe House recently launched a new hub for young adult Jewish life in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital,

The new location will be the organization’s 58th local young adult community worldwide, and the first created in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), as part of a new strategic collaboration between the two organizations. Moishe House will provide new ways for 22-30 year old Jews to engage in Jewish life in Sofia, create community on their terms, and further develop their leadership skills as part of a continuum of previous opportunities provided by their local community and organizations like JDC and BBYO.

The three Moishe House residents – Martin Kanovski (22), Ivan Panchev (22) and Daria Melamed (23) – will live together and turn their home into a hub of Jewish activities for their peers in Sofia. The new house will be located in the city center, close to the majority of Jewish projects and organizations that serve the capital and the country’s mostly Sephardic population.

“This opportunity to create Moishe House in Sofia will provide us and our peers with a lot more meaningful Jewish experiences,” said Kanovski, who is no stranger to Jewish life as an alumnus of the Lauder-JDC Szarvas camp which nurtures generations of Jewish young leaders in Europe. “We think Moishe House will fit perfectly into our community, where people in their 20’s are the first generation after the fall of communism to grow up in active Jewish community and will be the first to form Jewish homes from scratch. Moishe House will provide a perfect example and model of what a vibrant and warm Jewish home should look like.”

With 40 Houses in North America and Houses in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Great Britain, Argentina, Hungary, Poland, Israel, Australia and China, Moishe House successfully engaged over 80,000 program attendees in 2013. “We are focusing on the common ground that unites us,” said Alejandro Okret, Moishe House’s Senior Director of International Development. “The potential of this partnership is far reaching, leading to a huge investment in communities led by a fresh generation of inspired people. Together – JDC as the largest Jewish humanitarian organization in the world and Moishe House as the world’s largest Jewish organization working with young adults – we have a major opportunity and responsibility to join forces. We believe that hundreds of thousands of young adults can be impacted by this collaboration.”

And indeed, this partnership is already seeing other major developments. Just this month another new Moishe House, launching in partnership with JDC, will come to Shanghai, China. JDC and Moishe House believe this new step will further ignite the investment of both organizations in seeing Jewish life in China flourish as a new community emerges.

“Our global partnership with Moishe House is driven by a shared desire to create new opportunities to invest and cultivate a growing of sense of shared Jewish responsibility among young Jews worldwide. Yes, this partnership, leverages the strengths and networks of each organization, but it also creates a stronger continuum for young adults with options there for them at every stage of their life.” said Diego Ornique, JDC’s area director for Europe.

photo: Sofia’s first Moishe House community Shabbat dinner; courtesy