Participants in the ceremony proposed to commemorate fallen heroes from all ethnic groups on national holidays
Celebration of spirit and victory of tolerance were the main ideas of the award ceremony for the winners of the literary high school contest “Jews and Bulgarians – Two Ethnic Groups, One Country, One Love”. The initiative of the Jewish-Bulgarian Center “Aleph” attracted the interest of Bulgaria’s youth to the theme of the unity of the ethnic groups in the country in one of the most defining moments in its history. Sixty high school students from across the country joined the literary contest dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
The results and the prizes for the winners were officially announced on December 19, 2014, in the former synagogue in Burgas, now Art Gallery Petko Zadgorski. Dozens of children traveled hundreds of miles to attend and personally receive their prizes.
The serious approach to the subject and the diversity of literary forms proved extremely difficult for the jury, whose members included Mihaylina Pavlova – journalist at the Bulgarian public radio BNR and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Jewish News and the magazine La Estreya, Rumen Leonidov – poet, writer and publisher of the literary site Fakel.bg (Torch) and Assen Yordanov – investigative journalist and Director of the site Bivol.bg.
Therefore, the winners were more than usual. There was one first, two second and two third prizes. The winners received certificates, books and cash bonuses. Sixteen other young authors were honored with special incentive awards for excellent performance.
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Six participants took part in the contest with their own stories. The jury found three of these works to be of particular literary value. Their authors were awarded by the publisher of the magazine More (Sea), while Rumen Leonidov made the commitment to publish them in the literary site Fakel.bg.
According to the general opinion of the judges, the students have invested passion and personal feelings and have revealed remarkable facts about the battlefield friendship between Bulgarians and Jews; they have highlighted the tolerance of the Bulgarian State to the other ethnic groups. The insight into the details that disclose less popular facts is impressive – the Bulgarian army’s allegiance to the homeland and how soldiers of Jewish origin had sworn in their sacred books; used leave for their religious holidays; they were provided with food consistent with their religious customs, etc.
The grand prize was awarded to the eighth-grader from the School of Mathematics “Atanas Radev” in the city of Yambol Miroslava Grozeva.
“In his Memorial Album, published in Tel Aviv, Henri Moirov lists the names Bulgarian Jews who have died during the Wars. There I see the faces of young soldiers from Yambol. But not of all of them! They fused with the land that gave birth to them too soon, and this is the reason why they did not leave a picture for us – their heirs. They left no picture, but they left an exploit – they preserved their homeland,” Miroslava wrote in her essay, prompting the ovation of the audience. Her work will be published in Jewish News, the site Bivol and the site Fakel.bg.
Larissa Ambrozova, tenth-grader from the high school “Dimitar Blagoev” in the town of Svishtov and Martina Yotova, twelfth-grader from the Professional High School for Engineering and Management “Hristo Botev” in the town of Botevgrad, were ranked second.
Two third places went to Aleksandra Todorova, eleventh-grader from the high school “Vicho Grancharov” in the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa and to Matey Tamahkyarov, eleventh-grader in the English Language High School “Geo Milev” in the city of Burgas.
“I present this award on behalf of the brother of my grandfather, who was killed in 1915 and posthumously awarded an Order of Honor. From childhood on, on all national holidays, when at the solemn fireworks and roll-call ceremonies they say the names of the fallen heroes, I have been listening with this Order in my hand. I am extremely impressed by the attitude of young people to this tragic moment in our history. As I read their essays, I was really moved because I realized that there are chances for my big dream to come true – to hear the names of the fallen heroes of other ethnicities – Jews, Armenians, Roma, Turks on national holidays,” with these words the President of the Jury Mihaylina Pavlova presented one of the awards.
Through its theme, the contest looked for the strong and historically-determined bond between Bulgarians and Jews in events from the past.
“We managed to turn the attention of youth to the causes that unite people and not divide them. One such indisputable cause is Bulgaria,” said the Chair of Center” Aleph “Alberta Alkalay. This is the second literary contest that the Center organized among students in the country. Through them it carries out one of its main priorities – to create initiatives that provide good examples of integration between Bulgarians and Jews.
The initiative has received high praise from popular poet, publisher and member of the jury Rumen Leonidov. “This competition has shown that the newly-created in Burgas Center “Aleph” has a sound purpose. It echoed across the country. Through its virtual electronic library, “Aleph” directed children to the facts. Their interpretations and the quality of their work speak for a serious attitude towards the subject. I liked the fact that some of the students have started from very far, from the first artifacts. Others have even added information about our countrymen who immigrated to Israel and now represent the most serious Bulgarian national lobby in the world. According to recent studies, 13 million Bulgarians live all over the world, but nowhere else do they have such a unified presence as in Israel.
I gladly participated in this contest; I thank the organizers for inviting me to be part of the jury. I am pleased that on this Day of Light we can say that we continue the work of our ancestors – young Bulgarian Jews express gratitude for the rescue of their predecessors; young Bulgarians remain as tolerant as their ancestors were 70 years ago.
The Bulgarian nation is composed of all of us who live on this land – Bulgarians, Jews, Armenians, Roma, Turks, Pomaks. A nationalist is not the one who is dividing the nation, but the one who unites it,” said Rumen Leonidov.
The impressive number of participants in the contest and their thoughtful works received wide public attention. Representatives of local and state government, of the business, of the Jewish organization “Shalom”, public figures, people of different generations and from different ethnic groups came to congratulate the winners and to support them in their quest to build a future without tragedies, xenophobia and hatred. The Deputy Governor of Burgas, Sevdalina Turmanova, the Director of the Regional Police Directorate in Burgas Kaloyan Kaloyanov, the Vice Consul General of Turkey in Burgas, Ayshen Yozsoy, the Secretary General of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, Joseph Melamed, retired Colonel Joseph Ilel, former expert at the Military History Museum in Sofia, and many other public figures were among them.
Popular poet and playwright Nedyalko Yordanov was also in the audience. He presented one of the awards, saying “I am moved and I am fascinated by what is happening here”.
Greetings to the organizers and participants were received by the Burgas group of Members of the Parliament from the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB), as well as from the Executive Agency Military Clubs and Military Vacation Homes at the Ministry of Defense.
“The fate of Bulgarian Jews is historically linked with the fate of the Bulgarian people. Even archeological artifacts that indicate the Jews as some of the oldest settlers of these lands prove it. Bulgarians and Jews are one nation; they inhabit one land, one “home”, whom they care for and when they must defend freedom, they die for Bulgaria “, retired Colonel, Joseph Ilel, 94, said visibly moved.
The Secretary General of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria “Shalom”, Mr. Joseph Melamed delievered an official welcome on behalf of the Jewish community.
“I congratulate all those who now celebrate Hanukkah and who, in a few days, will celebrate Christmas. I am impressed and congratulate the team “Aleph” for what it is doing for unity between Jews and Bulgarians. I am pleasantly surprised by the activity of the students. They were involved in a contest on a subject both distant and relevant in modern times. The works of young people are dedicated to the universal dimension of humanity and the unique fate of Bulgarian Jews. If our children are excited about eternal human values, then there is hope for us that we will achieve the bright mission of our future.”
The focus of the contest was summed by Assen Yordanov:
“This contest makes us think about all that unites us and what the meaning of our existence actually is. There are few things with which our souls will be able to present themselves with dignity. Each one of us has a choice. Those young men had a choice when they left to almost certainly meet death. They could follow their selfish or material needs or shed their blood for the Homeland, an abstract concept, which sometimes raises doubts whether it is worth to sacrifice oneself for it. They chose the sacrifice and this way, they demonstrated that any goal can be achieved by the exploit of each one of us. Every personal exploit is sufficient to redeem the sins of all mankind.
The uniqueness of this evening is that there are people from all generations, from different ethnic groups, from almost all age groups. Not accidentally, the award ceremony for the winners is held at the time of the feast of spiritual light – Hanukkah. The contestants proved that for the young, the spirit through which human destinies are measured matters. And this is precisely the sense of this contest.”
Initiatives of this kind achieve their goal – to change thinking; to create a new society of tolerance and understanding. This is proven by the story of Ziad El Masri, one of the guests at the ceremony, who was the sponsor of last year’s contest organized by “Aleph”.
“When 30 years ago I came to Bulgaria, I was fleeing the civil war in my country and the war between Lebanon and Israel. Then I thought that the world consists of no other than the Arabs and the Islam and that they were always right. Jews were the monster, a bad thing, about which one should not even talk. Only here I began to understand that Christians, Jews and many other people are also good and many of them are my friends. I realized that everyone has a right to an opinion, to religion, to normal life. And that not only Arabs suffer – any mother who has lost her child suffers.
There is no religion that incites war. Wars are made by people and it is time to stop them. We, the Arabs, we are used to blame Israel for all our victims. In recent years, we have seen how in Syria 30,000 people were killed by their own government. In the war with Israel, the slain Arabs do not exceed 15,000. And I am starting to think that the Israelis also have the right to defend their land and their country.
For many years I led a fight with myself. Thanks to Bulgarian tolerance, I found answers to all my questions and I now live in peace with myself. I already know that we can all live together without wars and disagreements.
Thank you for making me part of your family. And to Hanukkah, which I now call our universal human holiday. I want to say I am proud that I am Bulgarian citizen of Arab origin.”
The idea of unity was joined by State Archives Burgas, which organized a unique exhibit with authentic materials from the First World War. The exhibit was prepared especially for the participants and guests of the ceremony and was presented for the first time.
The sponsorship was also joined by the American Jewish Committee, the Chair of the Organization of Bulgarian Jews “Shalom”, Mr. Maxim Benvinisti, the Bulgarian Navy Port Fleet Burgas and the Sunny Beach resort.
The attendees were brought back to the tragic years of war by a documentary. Artistic and dance performances of Burgas musicians and children touched the audience by presenting the common traditions of Bulgarians and Jews.
The culmination of the literary contest “Jews and Bulgarians – Two Ethnic Groups, One Country, One Love” turned into a celebration of the indestructible human spirit, where society and its youngest representatives said “No” to war and “Yes” to the pledged by history friendship between Bulgarians, Jews and other ethnic groups.
Participants in the ceremony joined around the idea to make a proposal to the Bulgarian President to have the names of all heroes from all ethnic groups fallen for the freedom and the unification of the homeland, who lost their lives on the battlefields, be mentioned on national holidays during the solemn salutes.
National Literary Contest
“Jews and Bulgarians – Two Ethnic Groups, One Country, One Love”
First prize – 250 levs, diploma and book “Bulgarians and Jews” -first and second volume – Miroslava Grozeva, 14, 8th grade, Mathematics High School “Atanas Radev”, Yambol;
Second prize- 200 levs, diploma and book “Bulgarians and Jews” -first and second volume
Martina Yotova, 17, 12th grade, Professional High School for Engineering and Management “Hristo Botev”, Botevgrad;
Larissa Ambrozova, 16, 10th grade, high school “Dimitar Blagoev”, Svishtov;
Third prize – 150 levs, diploma and book “Bulgarians and Jews” -first and second volume
Aleksandra Todorova, 17, 11th grade , high school “Vicho Grancharov”, Gorna Oryahovitsa;
Matey Tamahkyarov, 17, 11th grade, English Language High School “Geo Milev”, Burgas;
Incentives (in alphabetical order) – diplomas and books
- Alexandra Stefanova, 18, 12th grade, high school “Peyo Yavorov”, Petrich;
- Annie Kirova, 17, 11th grade, German Language High School “Goethe”, Burgas;
- Anita Pavlova, 15, 9th grade, 134 School “Dimcho Debelyanov”, Sofia;
- Denitsa Georgieva, 18, 12th grade, Foreign Language High School “Hristo Botev”, Kardzhali;
- Denitza Yanevska, 18, 12th grade, Foreign Language High School “Hristo Botev”, Kardzhali;
- Dimitar Chorbadzhiyski, 10th grade, Professional High School for Tourism, Kazanlak;
- Georgi Delev, 18, 12th grade, Foreign Language School “Hristo Botev” Kardzhali;
- Gergana Radenkova, 18, 12th grade, high school “John Bulgarian Archbishop”, Shumen;
- Gergina Ivanova, 18, 12th grade, high school “Dimcho Debelyanov”, Burgas;
- Ivan Terziev, 134th high school “Dimcho Debelyanov”, Sofia;
- Lyuba Todorova, 16, 10th grade Second English Language School “Thomas Jefferson”, Sofia;
- Martina Boneva, 18, 12th grade, Professional High School “Velizar Peev”, Svoge;
- Nancy Borisova, 18, 12th grade, High School for Natural Sciences and Mathematcis “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Montana;
- Nikolay Slavkov, 17, 11th grade, Foreign Languages High School “Plovdiv”, Plovdiv;
- Teodora Filipova, 17, 11th grade, high school “Hristo Botev”, Tutrakan;
- Yvonne Penova, 17, 11th grade, American College “Arcos”, Veliko Tarnovo;
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