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The Right Place at the Right Time

Ari Greenspan and Ari Z. Zivotofsky

The trip was supposed to be short and sweet: Shabbos in Sofiafollowed by a bris inBelgrade. But things became complicated practically the minute Ari and Ari arrived.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

belgarade shulThursday, Sofia


9:20 am: We land at the airport inSofia, the capital ofBulgaria. We’re looking forward to spending a relaxing Shabbos with friends, before we drive toBelgrade (Serbia) on Sunday to perform a bris milah.


11:15 am: We find out we’re not the only newcomers toSofia. A Jewish baby boy was born last week. He needs to have a bris. Maybe we would like to do it? Of course we say yes.


Friday, Sofia


4:00 pm: We arrive at the Sofia Central Synagogue, which is magnificent. With space to seat 1,000 people, it’s the third largest synagogue inEurope. We get our instruments ready for the bris we’re going to perform during Minchah.


4:30 pm: It’s time for Minchah to begin, 970 seats are still empty, but at least we have a minyan.


4:45pm: A new Jew has entered into the Covenant of Avraham. We’re putting away our instruments, when a 50-year-old man, Vasil, approaches. He clears his throat and, in halting English, explains that his mother recently passed away. While at the cemetery for the burial, he decided it was time for his own bris milah. (Later, he will tell us that his family name was formerly Ben Bassat, an old Spanish name. He’d like to know what would be a Hebrew first name that means “Hashem is in me.”) 


We look at our watches. There’s no time to do Vasil’s bris milah before Shabbos, so we agree to come back in December.


Shabbos, Sofia


A day of rest—before the adventure resumes on Sunday. We teach prospective converts about mikveh and have a community Seudah Shlishis.


Sunday, Belgrade


5:50 am: Today’s the day of the bris milah inBelgrade, the capital of nearbySerbia. We have a five-hour drive ahead of us, so we meet in our hotel lobby bright and early and wait for our hired car to arrive.


6:15 am: We’re still waiting. But in the meantime, we’ve found a great place to daven Shacharis: a fancy cigar-smoking room. After a breakfast of a coffee and banana, we’re ready to leave.


7:00 am: The car finally arrives. Why was the driver late? He thought we wanted to be picked up at 6 a.m. Serbian time, which is 7 a.m. Bulgarian time. In other words, he’s arrived at our hotel right on time. Got that? We didn’t, but at least we’re finally on the road.


7:45 am: We reach the border crossing betweenBulgaria andSerbia. There are two checkpoints, one on each side of the border. At the first one, the Bulgarians are surly. They open all of our luggage to make sure we’re not taking anything out of the country that we shouldn’t be taking. Repeat 50 meters later, on the equally surly Serbian side.


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