Local and Global Jewish Community in Tbilisi, Georgia

  • Team Schusterman

May 15, 2017

This story comes to us from Junction, an initiative of the JDCYESOD and the Schusterman Foundation. Junction helps to support young European Jews in taking an active role in strengthening European and global Jewry. In April, we asked participant Irina Pichkhadze for her perspective on Jewish community in Georgia. Read on for her reflections.

Irina was born in Tbilisi, Georgia and studies law at Tbilisi State University. She also organizes events and camp programming for Georgian Jews. 

What is your Jewish community like at home? How would you like to see it change?

In Georgia, particularly in Tbilisi, the Jewish community is fairly little, approximately 3,000 Jews live there, however, it’s worth mentioning, that my community members are actively involved in different Jewish activities organized by different organizations. I have been involved in the Jewish community and Jewish activities since early childhood.

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First, I studied in the Jewish school, with a focus on Jewish studies and Jewish traditions and culture and was surrounded by Jewish atmosphere. Since I was 14, I have organized and participated in Jewish camps in Georgia and in Israel and have worked as a leader (Madricha) for Jewish Agency for Israel. I am an active member of The Georgian Union of Jewish students and also have been involved in Sunday school program for Georgian Jewish students. 

To me, Jewish continuity means having an ability to pass our wisdom, knowledge and Jewish identity to a new generation. Jews have survived for so many centuries due to their ability to observe and retain their traditions, stay connected to Jewish life and the Jewish community. In today's world only passing the traditions and knowledge of Torah is not enough. In order to retain our Jewish identity, we should lead an active Jewish life, stay connected to each other in our communities and all around the world. 

The question arises: How do Georgian Jews stay connected? The Georgian Jewish community is one of the oldest communities in the world and dates as far back as the 6th Century BC. Georgia is a unique country. There has never been any kind of anti-Semitism in Georgia and Jews have lived a peaceful life so far. Until the 21st century, Georgian Jews lived in different big cities, in particular regions, thus there was no lack of Jewish surrounding.

For example, there is a public school #67 in Tbilisi (located in the center of Tbilisi, where most of Georgian Jews from Tbilisi lived), everyone calls this school “Jew school” and even today pupils can learn Hebrew there, and not only Jews studied there. Georgian Jews stay connected through the Jewish school, kindergarten, we celebrate holidays together, organize camps for Youth and students, there are Hebrew courses, events for our parents, etc. Thus, several times a month there is reason to be in a Jewish surrounding. In addition, by attending those events, we make close friends and that’s how we manage to stay connected.

Lastly, a lot of young students from our generation who have only one Jewish parent don’t identify as Jewish and therefore live a normal Georgian life. A lot of Jews in Georgia are losing their identity. I believe that it is our responsibility and your responsibility to try to involve them in Jewish life, activities and events and share our knowledge so that we don’t lose them. Every Georgian Jew is responsible for bringing back those people and helping them become more active members of our community. 

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.