The Jewish Story of Oni, Georgia

Oni, located in western Georgia, is a town in Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region and is surrounded by high mountains. Oni Jews inhabited the city in the 18th century after the annexation of Georgia by Russia. In old times a lot of Jewish families lived there; at some point Oni was the most inhabited Georgian region by Jews. In 1972 the Jewish population was 3500. 

Attribution: Bejanbejani, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite post-Soviet tendency towards migration, Oni still retains a small number of Jewish families – remnants of once powerful and large historic Jewish communities. Some of Jewish inhabitants are a part of one big family: Abraham and Simon are cousins. The main Street of Jewish district is called Baazov Street, where David Baazov used to live in 1903-1923 years; today this street is on the verge of destruction. David Baazov became the Rabbi of Oni, in 1904, after he returned to Georgia from Slutsk, where he studied. 

Synagogue in Oni, Georgia

Baazov founded Jewish public school in Oni, where he employed two qualified teachers from Russia. The school developed and became very popular among Jews of Oni; but after the revolution in Russia, the teachers left the school, which led to the downfall of the education center. The son of David Baazov, Gerzel Baazov, a Jewish-Georgian writer, was born on the same street in 1904. Except for Baazov street, there are three other districts which were mainly inhabited by Jewish communities: Vakhtang VI St. Kirovi St. and Chachashvili St. Apparently Michael Chachashvili used to be a Jewish doctor. 

Jewish Graveyard in Oni

Jewish families managed to get permission to leave The Soviet Union and go to Israel in the 70s; they protested in Moscow and opened a way for many other Jews to follow their path. This process got much better once Eduard Shevardnadze became the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. The immigration process started in 1968 and ended in the 90s. Today many families who used to inhabit Oni visit during summer and even stay at their former homes. 

 

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