The Jewish Story of Kutaisi, Georgia
Kutaisi is the legislative capital of Georgia, and a current municipal center of the Imereti region. It is the 3rd most populous city and is considered to be one of the most important cities in Georgia. Jewish inhabitants have been living in Kutaisi starting from ancient times, but we do not have any official sources until the year 1644. Jews lived mainly in the north-east of the city – Kutaisi, on the left bank of the river Rioni. This place was called street Shaumyani. This area was settled more compactly by Jews than the other ones. The number of Jewish residents showed an apparent growth at the end of the 18th century but as time passed, most of the Jews left Kutaisi for their historic homeland. A small number of the remaining Jewish families do not live compactly, and you can rarely hear that particular speech characterizing Georgian Jews. But it can be heard in the speech of Georgians who continue to live on the street Shaumyani and will continue to be heard for many years in this area. In the year 1871 there were 4702 Jews living in Kutaisi, which was the third biggest Jewish community in Georgia. Also in the 19th century the emigration of Jews in Kutaisi caused the rise of anti-sematism, which ended with blood slander in Surami and Sachkhere. It is assumed that Moshe Montefiore was involved in it even though there is no concrete evidence that there was any connection between Georgian Jews and Moshe Monrefiore. In 1937-1938 fighting against Judaism and Jewish culture spread around Kutaisi just like many other cities in the Soviet Union. The leaders of Jewish community such as: G. Deberashvili, the Rabbi of Kutaisi during 1927-1955, and the Rabbi during 1955-1965, were arrested. After World War II Jewish refugees went to Kutaisi, some stayed there, Dov Gaponov. The Jews of Kutaisi made a great contribution to the development of the city, for instance in the 19th century the Jewish inhabitants, who mostly were merchants and craftsmen, played a big role in Kutaisi’s economy. In 1919 many Jews in Kutaisi were working in the local silk factory. In 1969-1984 thousands of Jews left Kutaisi and inhabited Israel. According to Jewish agency in 1993 there were 2300 Jews living in Kutaisi, this number fell to 600 by 1999.