Religions

in Georgia

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Closed Synagogues

 
Natia Gogolashvili

Locked door may become a symbol of the synagogues in Georgia. Chairman of the Georgian Jewish Union Merab Chanchalashvili said large-scaled migration of Jewish people from Georgia is the main problem in the functioning of the synagogues. Other Jewish people living in Georgia also complain about it. 

Mass migration of Georgian Jewish people to Israeli started in 1970-80s when Jewish people living in the Soviet Union were allowed to move to Israeli and thousands Jewish used this opportunity.

Humanrights.ge wrote about the closed synagogue in Oni several weeks ago. Monitoring group of Human Rights Center found the same situation in Akhaltsikhe and Batumi. There are two synagogues in Guramishvili Street close to Rabat Fortress – they are upper and lower synagogues. Their doors are also locked. 

The upper synagogue of Akhaltsikhe was constructed in 1863; in 2011 it received status of the cultural heritage. It is the oldest among the current synagogues in Georgia – it is 153 years old. In 2012, when the Rabat Fortress was reconstructed, the upper synagogue was also renovated when wooden elements were cleaned from oil paints and damaged parts of paintings were restored. 

Local Jewish Simon Revishvili opened the locked door of the synagogues in Akhaltsikhe. “In 1953, based on Stalin’s decree both synagogues were seized from us and they were locked. Two months later Stalin died. After Khrushchev became the head of the Soviet Union, he ordered to return only upper synagogue to us. This synagogue is functioning today and the state has assigned it to us for use,” Simon Revishvili said.

According to Simon Revishvili, 3000-4000 Jewish persons lived in Akhaltsikhe during Soviet Time. Today only two families live in the town. Prayers are not conducted in the synagogue everyday because insufficient number of people. “In summer, when Jewish tourists arrive here, we conduct prayers almost every day. From November to April prayers are not conducted because of small number of people. However, I come here every day and open it,” Simon Revishvili said.

Unlike the upper synagogue, the lower synagogue is abandoned and looted. The Jewish people request the state to assign it to them for use. The synagogue was constructed in 1902 and like the neighboring synagogue, it received the status of the cultural heritage in 2011. The locals recall that during the Soviet Union different institutions functioned in the building: a library, a cinema-club, a billiard hall and finally a boxing gym.

“Today the building is abandoned. In 1972, a sport-gym was arranged in it and a building for shower-taps was constructed to the synagogue. They built a play-ground in the same territory that damaged the building very much. When the cinema hall was functioning in the building even windows were closed up,” Simon Revishvili said.

Local Mania Shantidze, who lives next to the Synagogue, said that she cleans the territory of the synagogue. “This building has been closed for the past 5-6 years. Sometimes I clean the territory and am sorry that the state does not care of it. Jewish tourists come, take photos of it. Particularly many tourists come here in summer and it is shame to have this building and surrounding territory so abandoned,” the local Mania Shantadze said.

Today plants are grown on the façades and roof of the lower synagogue. The roof is damaged and interior looted. After boxers left the building the government wanted to rehabilitate the synagogue but nothing was done yet. During the reconstruction of Rabat Fortress in Akhaltsikhe they planned to reconstruct the entire Lower Rabat district but after 2012 the rehabilitation works stopped. According to the National Agency for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage the rehabilitation of the monument is not planned in near future.

The Batumi Synagogue was also constructed in 1904 and is being reconstructed today. At this stage, the reconstruction process is about to end: “the rehabilitation has been on for 7 months. We will finish everything in about a month. There was bad situation in the building. The wet had damaged the entire synagogue and interior. We had to restore everything; we replaced even the door,” head of the rehabilitation works Zura Katsobashvili said. 

Today, the public law legal entity Union of Georgian Jewish is user of the synagogue. In 1990s, it was reconstructed but with some faults. Nowadays, these faults maybe improved by the 2015 project of the Ltd Sinuss. Ltd Iridium conducts rehabilitation works under supervision of the specialists of the National Agency for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.

“After 1930s, the Soviet Government closed the synagogue as well as other institutions of religious organizations. Afterwards, sport society Spartak occupied the building. In 1992 we got back the synagogue and it resumed functioning. Other Jewish civil organizations also started functioning. The first restoration of the synagogue happened in 1998. Euro-Asian congress funded current comprehensive reconstruction of the building,” head of the Jewish Community of Adjara Emil Krupnik said.

Emil Krupnik spoke about reduced number of Jewish parish. “It is very painful topic because during the Soviet Union the government tried to estrange people from religion. Prayers are not regularly conducted in the synagogue but we celebrate all Jewish holidays,” Emil Krupnik said.
Human Rights Center addressed the Office of the State Minister of Georgia for Diaspora Issues to request statistic data about Jewish people who left or/and arrived in Georgia for the last years. In accordance to the information provided by the Office of the State Minister, they do not have statistic data about migration and entrance of Jewish people from and into Georgia. 

According to the clarifications of the Office of the State Minister, they monitor movement of citizens of Georgia who live abroad and also of our compatriots who have dual citizenship. Their clarifications demonstrate that the Office of the State Minister does not consider Georgian Jewish people to be our compatriots as well as those Jewish people who hold dual citizenship.

Human Rights Center recommends the Office of the State Minister, who is responsible to monitor the migration (emigration) of the citizens abroad , to create informational data base about the Jewish people who migrated to Israel from Georgia and particularly about those, who hold dual citizenship. At the same time, the Office shall cooperate with the Georgian Jewish Diaspora in the same way as they cooperate with Georgian Diaspora in other countries,” the project coordinator at Human Rights Center Nana Saneblidze said.

The Human Rights Center believes to ensure proper functioning of the Synagogues, it is desirable that the Government of Georgia took measures to enhance contacts with Georgian Jewish people living in Israel and elaborate adequate state policy to encourage return of part of them to Georgia.

The article was prepared in the frame of the project implemented with financial support of the Government of Canada. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the donor. 
Human Rights Center bears sole responsibility for the content of the article.
 
12.02.2016
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