The Central Synagogue of Sofia has justly been described as the pride of all Bulgarian Jewry.
It has symbolized the Jewish community of Bulgaria for almost a century.
It is the second largest Sephardic (Spanish-Jewish) synagogue in Europe.
The Central Synagogue is the only Jewish house of worship in Sofia.
Besides a prayer room, the Synagogue houses the offices of the Jewish Religious Council and a small museum on the second floor.
The story of the construction of the Central Synagogue is as dramatic as its size. It began in the year 1903.
The Jewish community had been reorganized on the French Consistoire model. It was led by the dynamic new Chief Rabbi, Marcus Ehrenpreis, and the leaders of the Sofia Jewish community, the young energetic Ezra Tadjer, and the venerable Avram Davidjon Levy. Friedrich Grunanger, the most famous architect in Bulgaria at the time, was selected to design the Synagogue.
The site selected was in the city center on the property occupied by’ the very old synagogue “Ahava i Hesed” (Heb. Love and Kindness).
Construction begins on November 13, 1905 with an elaborate ground laying ceremony.
The famous brass chandelier weighing over 2200 kilos, the large candelabra (Heb. menorah), and other decorations were imported from Vienna.
Finally, after four years of construction, financial crises, and communal debates, the synagogue is completed.
On September 9, 1909 the Central Synagogue of Sofia was formally opened.
The Central Synagogue immediately became the symbol of Bulgarian Judaism. It housed the offices of the Chief Rabbi of Bulgaria and the Chief Rabbi of Sofia.
It also housed the Beth Din or supreme rabbinic tribunal. The famous Judaica library of the Sofia community with its priceless collection of medieval rabbinic responsa was also located in the Synagogue.
Since it opened, the Central Synagogue has held prayer services except for the year 1943-44 when most of the Jews of Sofia were deported to the countryside. Fortunately, the synagogue was not desecrated by the Nazis or local Fascists.
During the bombing of Sofia in 1944, the Synagogue was hit several times. The balcony was partially destroyed as were several columns in the sanctuary.
Exposed to the elements, the exquisite ornamental wall designs were damaged. The bombings also destroyed the community’s famous Judaica library and most of the valuable Hebrew books were burned.
In the last few years, an extensive fund raising campaign was begun to restore the building to its former glory. . The finest Bulgarian craftsmen, using the original plans and supervised by an architect from the Jewish community, are working daily on the project.
The restoration project was initiated with a very generous donation from the Doron Foundation of Israel.
You can read more about Sofia here.