Jewish people have been living in Georgia for centuries. Their big locations took place in most of cities and in rural areas. After reestablishing of Israel, most of them started to migrate from Georgia by the first chance. In thirty years most of Jewish settlements become empty. As a result of this big migration, only few cities remain with Jewish population. Those, who refuse to follow others, have their reasons.
Jewish communities have been living in Georgia for approximately 26 centuries. The first population settled after the Babylonian king Nabuchodonosor invaded Israel. Jewish settlers continued to migrate permanently, up until the XIX century. Their settlements took place in cities, including Mtskheta, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi, Oni, Gagra, and in rural areas, mostly in Urbnisi, Bodbe.
After the reestablishment of the state of Israel, most migrated from Georgia at the first chance possible. Their main reason was to see their homeland, as well as to improve their living conditions, which, by that time, had worsened in Georgia. Accordingly, during the last thirty years, most Jewish settlements have slowly become uninhabited. As a result of this big migration, few cities remain with a Jewish population left: Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Oni, Batumi. In Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city, only 220 people left, who have either Jewish or mixed families with locals. Those, who refuse to follow others, have their reasons.
Kutaisi, once a strong Jewish settlement, can hardly gather even 10 people to pray during the Sabbath now. The newly repainted XIX century synagogue is not indicative of overall improvements.
Moses Baluashvili, born in Georgia, 75, manages connections with Kutaisian authorities and with foreign Jewish organizations. He says, “We must be in a good relationship with any government, just as we respect the Georgian nation. As for me, I have no problem to go to a Christian church, which I do when I am invited in a Georgian wedding. We also invite them to our celebration parties.”
Moses Baluashvili prefers not to talk about the problems that he faces, and tends to draw his attention towards those businessmen who help the Jewish community in Kutaisi. But occasionally he argues about the great deal of work it is to invite the remaining Jewish community to the temple (he speaks Georgian word “salotsavi”) at least at big celebrations. Although his relatives live in Israel, Moses Baluashvili refuses to leave Kutaisi, as he is sure that in this case, the community will come to its end.
David (Bukhu) Buziashvili, who is responsible for preparing kosher meat, sees the main problem is poverty. Born in Kutaisi, he finds the unsolved issue of unemployment as one of the main reasons why Jewish Georgians do not want to return to their birthplace. But he refuses to go, saying, “I don’t want to abandon my house here. I have relatives there but I don’t want to live on someone else’s expense.”
Kosher meat is served once or twice a month. For this occasion, Khakham specially arrives from Tbilisi and slaughters the calf.
The Jewish cemetery in Kutaisi, which is approximately 2 centuries old, looks very much abandoned. The government does not have much interest in cleaning the almost forgotten place. If you look closely, behind the moss, on faded stones you will see pictures of Jewish Georgians dressed in traditional Georgian costumes. This fact, as well as the vine ornaments on burial stones, emphasize the fact of cultural assimilation and friendship between two nations, which is now fading. David Buziashvili recalls: “One of my friends returned in Georgia for a while and asked me to help find his father’s grave. He hadn’t been in Kutaisi for 40 years, had never has seen the cemetery afterwards… Of course, we couldn’t find it.”
A man carries pieces of old bread home. Poverty and unemployment have affected the Jewish community dramatically.
Besides unemployment, some dwellers have experienced hate speech and verbal violence in an ethnic context. Esther Buzukashvili, who worked 26 years in the public school as Russian teacher, says that she was fired because of her ethnicity. Now she gives private lessons at home, “I’m sure that the reason of my firing was of envy. Since then my house was robbed several times. But this does not bother me as I know that I’m right in God’s eyes. I have many wonderful Georgian friends which I love with all my heart.”
Once Esther Buzukashvili used to be a musician. Time after time, she plays classical or traditional Jewish music on her piano. Her parents died in an airplane crash and are buried in the Kutaisi Jewish cemetery: “I would like to go but I live in my parents’ house. This is what’s left from them. And, besides, someone has to look after their graves, someone has to look after their history, yes? If we go, no one will remain there and it will be the end.”
Before everybody leaves, or elders pass, the seats of the 200 year old synagogue still awaits prayers to celebrate the holy Sabbath.
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