Bulgarian Jews prepare country’s first Jewish culture festival

(JTA) — Bulgaria’s Jewish community is preparing to launch the country’s first large Jewish culture festival.

The festival will open next week in front of the National Palace of Culture in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, according to Maxim Benvenisti, president of Shalom Bulgaria, the representative group of Bulgarian Jews.

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Organizing the festival, which will feature Jewish music, cinema, literature and learning in 18 sukkah-shaped stalls, was “not easy in the current political situation,” Benvenisti told JTA on Friday.

He referred to a wave of anti-corruption protests, some of them violent, that erupted in Bulgaria in July following the now-revoked nomination of 32-year-old media mogul Delyan Peevski to head the State Agency for National Security. In July, thousands barricaded the parliament.

Benvenisti said that despite isolated incidents during the protests, the unrest did not change what he termed “the near-zero levels of anti-Semitism in Bulgarian society.”

Other tensions meant “it was difficult to organize a mass event in the current atmosphere, but it was important for us to have Bulgarian Jewry serving as an example of cooperation and solidarity in these times,” Benvenisti said. He added that about 3,000 people were expected to attend the Sept. 15 opening of the festival.

Benvenisti also said that the festival is being organized together with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, “without which we would not have had the courage to mount such an ambitious project,” Benvenisti added.

Among the celebrities slated to participate is the Bulgarian television chef Uti Buchvarov, who will be introducing visitors to samples of Jewish cuisine, Shalom Bulgaria said in a statement about the event.