Caucasus

Back in the Caucasus mountains.

     Georgia is a fascinating country; even now, on my umpteenth visit here, it just won't cease to boggle my mind. That, in a good way (usually).
     Whether part of Europe or Asia or both, showing extreme poverty and great riches, hearts worn-on-sleeves and ceremonial pomposity, moderation and excess,  with its wealth of history, tradition, music, art, unusual customs and some of the best food on the planet, it lies there, yours to discover (a little farther than Ontario though).

    I told you of the food before [see here if you missed it]. Let me tell you of the Jews that invented it.

The Jews of Georgia have been a source of inspiration for many refuseniks in my childhood.

Their eyes were on Israel as the ultimate prize even during those Soviet times when no one ever even dreamt it.  They started immigrating to Israel in the late 1960's, and served as the icebreaker leaving an example worthy of following in their wake.

Ironically, about 98% of the Jewish population have left by now the one region that never exhibited antisemitism.

Traditionally oriented as always, vast majority went to Israel, with small congregations forming in London, Antwerp, and New York.

By the end of the millennium, 98% of Georgian Jewry has left the country. Just over 3,000 Jews reside here today, most of those in the capital city, Tbilisi.

Whole communities uprooted, synagogues abandoned. The synagogue buildings, a propo, in many cases are maintained by the gentile neighbours who think it a sacrilege to let a House of God lie waste. I take my group of 40 from one village to another, seeing rows of mezuza marks on the empty houses, entering cold sanctuaries with the Torah blessings card still on the Bimah. On one hand, you would expect it to be demographically devastating. Can you even imagine going to the Schule where you grew up to pray for the last time, knowing well it's the last time anyone prays there?

On the other, when you think they were not forced to leave through oppression, persecuted by the state or hated by their neighbours. The fine balance between their desire for life in Israel and their love for their home country has drastically shifted. The dire economic situation of Georgia in the 90's, the newly acquired ease of immigration, and the avalanche of the last Aliya were all contributing factors that tipped the scale.

After an 11-day tour through pretty much all of Georgia, our travellers will return to Israel and spend two more days in a couple weeks learning about the life of the Georgian communities in Israel.

I am writing this message from high up the mountains (the village of Ushguli, at 2,200 m above sea level is the highest settled point in all of Europe), and the Internet signal is a bit iffy here.

It makes sending pictures difficult; I'll make it up to you next week when we are down in the valley.

Shabbat Shalom,
RE


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