It was not long ago that the author of this article was ambling through the streets of Krasnaya Sloboda in Azerbaijan, home of Juhuri speaking mountain Jews. It was here that several Caucasian Jews settled after successfully surviving the invasion of Iranian conquerer Nadir Shah, who by the way is infamous in author’s homeland India for having stolen the “Peacock Throne.” On being asked her ethnicity, a Jewish girl in Krasnaya Sloboda categorically told the author “Mountain Jew not Ashkenazi.” Jewish population is in fact very diverse and different Jewish communities have substantially preserved their customs and traditions.
After returning to India from Krasnaya Sloboda in Azerbaijan, the author decided to explore other Jewish settlements in the Caucasus and learn about their history. After a few months, bags were packed again by the author to go to the Caucasus, but this time to Georgia, home to another old Jewish community.
Unlike Azerbaijan which is a Shia majority Turkic country, Georgia is a Christian country following Eastern Orthodoxy, both are post Soviet republics and their ambience is substantially similar, from Russian being understood by most people to Marshutkas being used for travelling by common people.
11th century Georgian historical sources say that the Jews first appeared and settled down in Kartli in Georgia, after the destruction of the first temple by Nabukhodonosor (586 B.C) in Jerusalem and their exile from Judah by him; as per Georgian hagiography a Georgian Jew Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans, he bought the robe of Jesus from a Roman soldier and brought it back to Georgia. As he entered the town, he was met by his sister Sidonia, who, upon touching the robe, immediately died from ecstasy. The robe couldn’t be taken from her grasp, so they buried her and the robe in the church. Georgian Orthodox Church consecrated Jewish Sidonia as a Saint and she came to be called Saint Sidonia.
Where Saint Sidonia was buried with the Holy robe of Jesus Christ in Mtskheta, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was built, the main patriarchal cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Mother Cathedral of Georgia, the place of enthronement of the Georgian Catholicos-Patriarchs, the burial of many kings of Georgia, their family members and patriarchs from the great cathedrals. Jews still live in Georgia mainly in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi on the shores of the Black Sea. After visiting the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Cathedral in Mtskheta, the author of this article decided to visit the Great Synagogue of Tbilisi.
On returning to Tbilisi the author moved towards the Vakhtang Gorgasali Square, and onwards to the Great Synagogue of Tbilisi, this is also known as “Synagogue of the Akhaltsikhelians”, and was built in 1904-1911 by Georgian Jews from Akhaltsikhe, hence the mention of the people from Akhaltsikhe in its second name. The author would like to mention here that those Jewish tourists who want to eat, can find a Kosher restaurant near this Synagogue, called King David restaurant.
According to World Jewish Congress statistics for the year 2023, 1500 Jews reside in Georgia, and the author had an opportunity to interact with one of them Ika Magalashvili at the Great Synagogue of Tbilisi, Ika who has studied International Relations, was kind enough to offer the author a banana to eat and time to talk with him. The author and Ika talked a lot about origins of Georgian Jews, international politics affecting Israel, the condition of Jews in Caucasus in general and Georgia in particular.
As per Ika the condition of Jews in Georgia is good and even when we read the history of Georgia we find, that it does not have a history of state supported antisemitism, and Jews have been living peacefully in Georgia. The author hopes that peace is established in the larger Caucasus region which has seen increased tensions lately, and human rights of all groups in this beautiful region are respected.