One People with One Heartby Sharon Rosen Leib January 30, 2017
“I know you’re a doctor and I’m worried about my baby girl being so far away from home,” I said, protectively wrapping an arm around 22-year-old Oldest Daughter’s shoulders. I was about to leave her in Sofia, Bulgaria for a 10-month stint as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. What would happen if she got sick?
When I made this entreaty to Dr. Alexander Oscar, the 38-year-old secular head of Bulgaria’s Jewish community, I blew my journalistic cover. Dr. Oscar, whom I’d been interviewing for an SDJJ story, dropped his guarded professional demeanor. His dark eyes instantly brightened and he grinned at my maternal outburst, “She’s your daughter? I thought you were both journalists,” he said. “Please, don’t worry. Of course we’ll take care of her!”
I departed the following day with greater peace of mind. Oldest Daughter was in good hands. Bulgaria’s Jewish community would watch over her.
In my darkest nightmare, I never could’ve imagined why we’d need the community’s support so soon. One weeknight in early December, Oldest Daughter stepped outside the front door of her apartment building to wait for a cab. A heavyset man in his 30s made brief eye contact with her. Then he grabbed her, covered her nose and mouth and shoved her face down onto the sidewalk. She tried to scream as he reached for her skirt. Fortunately, her heavy winter clothing proved a formidable barrier. Unable to disrobe her, he mounted her back, humped her and ejaculated on her coat. When he saw the cab’s headlights, he fled. The entire incident lasted only a few minutes. Oldest Daughter was traumatized but relieved she hadn’t been raped or suffocated to death.
Instead of panicking and jumping on a flight to Sofia (which would’ve taken at least 48 hours), I emailed Dr. Oscar for urgent help. I had two very specific requests: number one — to find a good English-speaking therapist to assist my daughter process her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); number two – to have a security camera installed outside her building that would alert her via an iPhone app to anyone lurking outside her door.
Dr. Oscar emailed me back within hours saying, “Shalom, the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria will do anything necessary to help.” He’d already contacted Eric Rubin, the United States Ambassador to Bulgaria, who also happens to be Jewish. Ambassador Rubin told Dr. Oscar he’d take immediate action and forwarded the name of an English-speaking Jewish therapist. Both Ambassador Rubin and his wife Nicole emailed me directly expressing their concern and ensuring me that Oldest Daughter would get whatever support she needed.
Julia Dandalova, head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s office in Bulgaria, also contacted me. She let me know she’d be speaking to the Sofia Jewish community’s head of security about having a camera installed outside Oldest Daughter’s apartment building. Within days, Dr. Oscar, Ms. Dandalova and Ivan Panchev, the head of security, met with Oldest Daughter to discuss the type of security cameras to be installed. They took care of all the details and installed the cameras.
The U.S. Embassy connected her with an outstanding therapist who has been helping her process the attack and her feelings in the aftermath. In short, Bulgaria’s Jewish community stepped up and took care of my daughter in her time of crisis.
My husband and I are tremendously comforted knowing that Sofia’s Jewish community continues to have our daughter’s back. I wrote Dr. Oscar and Ms. Dandalova that their incredible support made me realize more than ever that we Jews are one people.
Dr. Oscar responded, “One people with one heart (am echad b’lev echad).”