Bulgaria

Starbucks and Judaism

Never thought I’d step foot in a Starbucks while in Sofia, but here I am. It’s my only way to communicate with the outside world, since I still don’t have internet in my apartment yet. Luckily for me Starbucks offers free wifi to patrons — even though I did have to pay 2.10 Leva for a cup of tea. I’ve never been a telephone person, even before the internet became my major method of communication I would avoid using the phone if I could. I prefer face to face communication overall, but nowadays you need to utilize all three (phone, web, in-person) to organize a face-to-face meeting with existing contacts. But, there are those rare occasions when you strike up a conversation with a random person.

Today, well literally 3 minutes ago was one of these occasions. I was sitting on a Starbucks couch minding my own business when a gentleman asked me something in Bulgarian, which I didn’t quite understand. I replied that I spoke English and he asked the question again in English – which was whether or not I liked my Mac and if it had a good battery life. This one question developed into a longer conversation not only about computers. I learned that Igor was from the Ukraine, had spent some time in living in NYC’s “Alphabet City”, but now calls Sofia home and he has a computer business. I don’t recall how we got onto the topic of the Synagogue in Sofia, but I think he actually asked if I had been there yet. Keep in mind neither of us had mentioned that one of us was Jewish, but there seemed to be this unspoken understanding. It wasn’t as if either one of us was being cautious not to mention our religion, but we felt it didn’t need to be said.

I began asking if he knew about High Holy Services and he told me about a Jewish Community Center (JCC) that had a lot of young people. He also knew of a girl in her 20s who sings in a choir at the JCC and called her right away – since she would know more information then he. We spoke about the Jewish Community in Sofia and how it was primarily Sephardi having come originally from Turkey via Spain (The Inquisition). He mentioned that they were very much respected and integrated into the Bulgarian Community and none speak Yiddish (or a Sephardi version). We discussed what we both knew about the community and he gave me some basic information about when to stop by at the Synagogue and inquire about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services in the next few weeks.

It was the type of conversation I had been hoping to have, since I had been planning to learn more and get involved with the Jewish Community in Sofia. It is also the type of conversation I did not expect to have randomly in a Starbucks in Sofia. I am not a deeply religious person and as it turns out neither is Igor, who is more interested in Buddhism and other Eastern Religions, but I am interested in my heritage & religious traditions that have survived thousands of years.

At the end of the conversation we exchanged contact information spoke and about getting together for coffee/tea with the girl he had called earlier. Who would have thought . . . of the only 1,000 or so Jews in Sofia I made my connection to the Jewish Community by just grabbing a tea at Starbucks.

Ciao Ciao!