Ever since Christianity and Judaism parted ways so many centuries ago, Jewish followers of Yeshua have been hard to find.

For most of church history, a Jewish person who was convinced that Yeshua was the Messiah—or, more often, was coerced, bribed, or threatened into saying they were convinced—had to leave behind Jewish identity and practice and become a practicing Christian.

Amidst this sea of stars were a few wandering planets—a few Jews who refused to conform to the categories of their day, who chose to follow Yeshua while practicing Judaism. One of these few was Rabbi Daniel Zion, chief rabbi of Bulgaria in the years following World War II.

Rabbi Zion was born in 1883 in Thessaloniki (also known as Thessalonica), a city whose Jewish history dates well before the time of the Apostle Paul, who visited a synagogue there on his journeys (Acts 17:1-9). Daniel Zion attended Jewish schools and received rabbinical training in Thessaloniki but also learned French and became well-read in secular literature. The only book he wouldn’t touch was the New Testament; centuries of Christian persecution of Jews had made the name of Jesus anathema to the Jewish community.

In 1915, Rabbi Zion was asked to travel to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, to lead the Yuch Bunar synagogue there. He acceded and found himself in the middle of political upheaval. Bulgaria’s defeat during the Second Balkan War had led to territorial losses and provoked a new regional alliance with Austria-Hungary. This realignment meant Bulgaria was about to find itself on the losing side of World War I, a disaster that led to the abdication of King Ferdinand and the ascension of Boris III.

The Jewish population of Bulgaria was small and concentrated mainly in Sofia. Rabbi Zion had his work cut out for him, especially with a tendency toward secularization among the youth, who had taken to speaking Bulgarian rather than Ladino. He founded several organizations dedicated to promoting traditional Judaism and caring for the numerous widows, orphans, and wounded men from Bulgaria’s repeated excursions to war.