The country of Georgia is situated strategically on the old Silk Road that connected China with the Black Sea. It's technically in Asia (in fact on the highway today we saw signs that it is 1700 kilometers to Istanbul and 1200 to Tehran) but it wants to have ties with the European Union. It's one of the oldest Christian countries having adopted Christianity in the 4th century. Apparently Jews have been here since the Babylonian exile and in fact Georgia is officially celebrating 2600 years of Jewish presence this year.
The Jewish community numbered close to 100,000 in the early 1970s but then people started moving to Israel and America. Now there are about 5,000 Jews in the Tbilisi, the capital, and another few hundred in other towns in the country. Yesterday and today we went to Jewish community centers called Chesed in Tbilisi and in Gori. These centers are run by the Joint Distribution Committee whose mission it is to take care of Jewish communities in need around the world. These cheseds offer a hot meal or meals in wheels, activities for the elderly, preschools and after school activities for kindergarten through high school. In both places yesterday and today we were treated to performances by the children and to delicious and abundant kosher lunches.
However it is quite clear that in 20 years there won't be any more Jews in Georgia. The country is poor and the young Jews only want to move to Israel. In fact the other agency that is cosponsoring our trip is the Jewish Agency for Israel. It provides summer camps and youth groups that instill Jewish culture and Zionist education so that the teens and college students we met yesterday only want to move to Israel. The only Jews that will be left behind are the elderly or those who are defined as Jewish by Israel - one Jewish grandparent. There are synagogues - all quite beautiful and newly renovated thanks to the Georgian Jewish Diaspora and also the government (in time for the 2600th anniversary) but there aren't enough Jews to use them. So even though it was quite impressive to see the current vitality of the community thanks to JDC and JAFI we know that it will be short lived.
We had a meeting yesterday with the deputy foreign minister and tomorrow we meet with the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church because Georgia wants us to know how much they love it's Jews. The Israeli ambassador had dinner with us last night and tonight we will be having a kosher dinner at the American ambassador's residence. We've been treated like royalty and I have been feeling privileged to be participating in this trip. The Jewish community really appreciates us coming and showing support and I have been moved by being with our Jewish brothers and sisters.