August 2016– This past summer, our trip up the Danube River first started in Sofia, Bulgaria. On the Sunday afternoon of our organized tour we decided to take the time and find the Central Synagogue. Not far from our hotel, next to the central market hall, and down the street from the mosque is the Synagogue. (The area in Sofia is called the Square of Tolerance-with the presence of churches, synagogue and mosque all within several streets of each other). Built at the turn of the century 1905 to 1909 by an Austrian architect, the building was designed as a smaller version of the sephardic synagogue in Vienna.
The entrance to the building was through a courtyard, and then a doorway perpendicular to the street. One continues from the entrance doors into a “compressed space“, and then in front of you, the space opens to the Sanctuary. The sanctuary, as you look around is filled with references to the number eight. There are octagons in the tile pattern, combinations of eight in the number of columns, and the chandelier. We were lucky to have a senior member of the small community talk to us about the building, the fabric , materials and the community now and through time.
During the bombing of Sofia in 1944, the building was partially destroyed. A sign on the wall indicated that funds from the Ronald Lauder Foundation have helped restored the sanctuary.
How do I describe our time in Sofia? The parts of the city that we saw were stuck in time. There was evidence of old and new, neo-everything architecture, evidence of the communist presence, archaeological digs of roman times and earlier, a countryside that reminded me of Canada, and an uneasiness of a busy shopping street, filled but no one seemed to be buying. As we entered the synagogue, I had a sense of comfort. I was far from home, a 24 hour plane ride away, yet the sanctuary was familiar .