By Sandi Ben Ari

I arrived in Bulgaria a year and a half ago from Israel. I must admit that I had already known and heard quite a
bit about life in Sofia before my arrival. My son-in-law’s grandmother was born in Sofia. She was always happy
to share her wonderful stories and vivid memories about life growing up here. Her fond memories left me with a
warm feeling and a desire to come here to Sofia and see for myself.

There are over 50,000 Bulgarian Jews living in Israel today. They have a reputation for being honest, kind,
friendly, hardworking, and very hospitable. We have at least four very well-known Bulgarian restaurants in Israel. So, now you know why, when my husband was given the choice of a job in Hollywood or in Sofia, we
opted for Sofia. I didn’t even have to think twice about coming, and I have no regrets at all.

I am so happy that we came. Since my arrival, I have had the opportunity of meeting so many incredible people from every country imaginable. I have been exposed to other cultures and traditions, which has given
me a greater appreciation of our differences. We are not politicians or governments; we are just people
coming from all over the world to share and learn from one another. I took advantage of spending time
together with my many wonderful friends, learning so much about them and their countries. This has made
me believe that we have the power to break barriers and hopefully change the world to be a better place, to rid ourselves of misconceptions and stereotypes. It all starts with being tolerant of others who are different and being willing to open our hearts, as well as our minds. Although we come from so many different countries, we are not so different. All of us aspire for a better life for our families and for a safer world.

My Bulgarian friends have been hospitable, helpful, and kind. My husband and I never felt isolated here, as we
could always turn to the native Bulgarians, who were more than willing to go out of their way to help us. They
welcomed us into their hearts, as well as their homes. “Adi’s Cook and Book” became a place that felt like a
second home, where we could share delicious food as well as wonderful times with such dear friends, whom
we will never forget.

Bulgarian women impress me not only with the way they look, but with the fact that they are extremely ambitious and hardworking. They are willing to take chances and are not afraid of failure. I have never seen so many beautiful women in one country. Bulgarians are a proud people, with a rich tradition and culture. Family is very important to them. Being a member of IWC has given me a unique opportunity to get involved in many activities. I organized the Lozenets Group, whose goal was to provide an opportunity for women who live in the same neighborhood to come together and socialize. Many of us became very good friends, and the group was a great opportunity to feel that we were not alone in our neighborhood. This became especially true on those cold and snowy days when we could just walk over to each other’s houses for a cup of tea and chat. I am so pleased that my good friend Yoko will be the new coordinator of the group.

I enjoyed working at the Charity Bazaar, whether it was preparing delights, setting up, or selling. I loved being
around all the different stalls representing so many different countries. It was a time that all of us worked together from all our different countries for one cause: to raise money for the needy people in Bulgaria.
One of my most memorable times here was during the tsunami in Japan. I was so impressed with the efforts of
the Japanese women in the club. They organized a fundraiser in which the IWC women participated. I was
amazed at how, during this horrific and difficult time, the Japanese people, as well as people from other countries, worked together. It was beautiful to see how all of us worked towards a common goal—to do something positive during such a devastating time. I was so proud of how our members responded in time. I was honored when Yoko let me join her at one of her fundraisers at the American Embassy. I got to know the lovely Japanese women in the club, whom I really admire and like.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love to walk. So I consider myself an expert and must admit that Sofia has some of the most beautiful parks and forests that I have ever seen. My Bulgarian neighbors greet me on my way with “Zdravey” and “Dobar Den”. The faces that I saw 1-1/2 years ago have become familiar and friendly. We recognize each other and enjoy greeting one another on the street. I love the breathtaking mountains and have enjoyed many hikes and walks up Vitosha Mountain with friends. When traveling outside of Sofia, you discover and appreciate how beautiful Bulgaria really is. My favorite holiday while here was Baba Marta. I had so much fun receiving and exchanging martenitsas on the first of March. I would buy dozens of these beautiful red-and-white interwoven strings with beautiful decorations, and had so much fun giving them to friends and neighbors. It is a wonderful tradition which reminds us that spring is on its way, and that the strings should bring health and happiness. When wearing the Baba Martas around my wrists and pinned to my clothes, I felt a part of all that was going on.

I have mastered the Shopska salad, and my friends in Israel expect it on the table for breakfast when visiting.
(Salad is a typical dish for breakfast in Israel.) I have also learned quite a few Bulgarian words and expressions
which I am so proud of and use often, even if I mispronounce them.

I am happy to be going home to Israel to my family. I will be returning to my job teaching English, which I love.
However, I am leaving Sofia with wonderful memories. I will remember the special times with my many friends
here, as well as my daily walks admiring and enjoying the beauty surrounding me. I will take back the things I
have learned from so many of you, who have shared with me experiences from your countries and personal
lives. My friend Yuko told me that the world is small, but friendships are big. This is so true. I will keep in touch with the many friends that I have made here. It will not be easy for me to say goodbye.
I will miss all of you.