Jewish Community of Georgia
A Jewish merchant from Akhaltsikhe
A Jewish woman from Akhaltsikhe
Georgian-speaking Jewry is one of the oldest of the Diaspora communities. Archeological sites prove the presence of Jews in Georgia since the 2nd century b.c.e. Over the years, Georgian Jewry acquired many local habits, especially in its day-to-day culture and language. Georgia was known as a country where there was little anti-Semitism. Still its Jews underwent many difficult periods, and some were even reduced to slavery. Despite this Georgian Jewry remained true to Jewish religious tradition and was exempted from much of the Soviet repression of religion. In 1979 nearly half of the 90 synagogues in the Soviet Union were situated in Georgia.
It was a letter by 18 heads of Georgian Jewish families in August 1969 to the then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that sparked the international movement to free Soviet Jewry. That letter expressed a fervent love for the Land of Israel and the Jewish People, and the desire to be granted permission to make aliya.
"There are 18 of us who signed this letter. But he errs who thinks that there are only 18 of us. There could have been many more signatures. They say that there is a total of 12,000,000 Jews in the world. But he errs who believes there is a total of 12,000,000 of us. For with those who pray for Israel are hundreds of millions who did not live to this day, who were tortured to death, who are no longer here. They march shoulder to shoulder with us, unconquered and immortal, those who handed down to us the traditions of struggle and faith_ We will wait months and years, we will wait all our lives if necessary, but we will not renounce our faith or our hopes. We believe our prayers have reached God. We know our appeals will reach people. For we are asking let us go to the land of our forefathers."
GP 5,450,000 ~ JP 13,000
The community is divided equally between "native" Georgian Jews and Russian-speaking Ashkenazim who began migrating there at the beginning of the 19th century, and especially during World War II. The largest center is in the capital Tbilisi (11,000). There are also communities in Kutaisi (1,000), Gory (800), Batumi (300), Oni (250), Akhaltsikhe, and several other places.
There is no roof organization in Georgia, but some 30 separate Jewish organizations function.
Culture and Education
There is a day school in Tbilisi and six supplementary schools in three other cities. The office of the JDC in Tbilisi organizes Hebrew-language and other Jewish classes, as well as special activities for youth and for the elderly. Several Jewish publications appear, including Alia Sakhartvelodan, Shalom, and Menorah.
Georgian Jewry succeeded in maintaining Jewish tradition to a greater extent than most other Soviet Jews. Intermarriage was and remains low, and the level of Jewish religious knowledge is considerably higher than that of other republics. There are synagogues in Tbilisi, Kutasisi, Batumi, Gori, Oni, and several other communities, including those in which only a negligible number of Jews remains. Kosher food is available.
Aliya: Georgian Jews began to settle in Eretz Israel in the 1860s, and by 1914 there were 500 in Jerusalem. Since 1989, 17,000 Georgian Jews have emigrated to Israel.