The Jewish Story of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Region in Georgia
Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti is a region located in the western part of Georgia and consists of historical provinces Samegrelo and Zemo Svaneti. The area has 1 city and 7 municipalities. Areas which were inhabited by Jews are the City of Poti, the Municipality of Senaki and villages: Sujuna and Bandza. Poti is a port city in Georgia, located on the eastern Black Sea coast in the region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti in the western part of the country. Jews of Poti inhabited the place in 1958, once the place received the status of the city. Daniel Magashvili’s family was one of the five families who started the Jewish community in Poti. Near the middle of the 20th century there were 200 Jewish families in the city, brought by the need of viable resources. During that time the Rabbi of the city also worked for the Jews of Sokhumi and Batumi. Apart from Ashkenazi Jews there were the Jews of Sujuna, Bandza and Kutaisi. In 1886, 161 Jews inhabited Poti, 54 out of which were there temporarily. In 1945 Jewish community officially registered in the city. The Jewish site you can find at this place is an inactive Poti Synagogue, which was built in 1903. [caption id="attachment_37654" align="alignnone" width="1333"] Synagogue in Poti, Georgia[/caption] Senaki, located on the right bank of the river Tekhuri, is a town in western Georgia, specifically in Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region. We come across the Jews of Senaki or Tskhakaia for the first time in sources from the 19th century. According to one of the sources Itzhak Israelashvili had a debt of 200 Georgian Maneti (Russian Ruble). In 1869 traveler J. Chorny visited Senaki and pointed out in his writings that the Govern of Senaki promised to give him a permit to inhabit Kutaisi, because there was no place to pray in the town. There was a time when 3000 Jews inhabited this area; the number came down to one by the 2018 statistics; by this year there was just one man named Simon Tsitsuashvili left from the community. [caption id="attachment_37655" align="alignnone" width="2000"] Senaki Synagogue[/caption] The Jewish sites you can find in Senaki are a Synagogue, which was built in 1969 and the Jewish graveyard. In the 1940s or 1950s there were two active synagogues in the town. One, located in the center of the city, was built in 1880 and was destroyed by the government in 1946. Second one was located at the same place and was a two floor building; it was burnt down in 1963 but by the help of local Jews it was reconstructed. The synagogue was taken away from the Jews and was redesigned into a factory for cooling drinks. Sujuna, a village in Abasha municipality, is located on the bank of the river Abasha. Georgian Jews have been compactly living in Sujuna since the 18th century. During the ruling of David Dadiani Sujuna became one of the centers for trade. The last Jew living in Sujuna passed away in 2000, but Jews still visit the synagogue annually and have a good relationship with the people living in the village. Along with the Synagogue, there is also a graveyard in Sujuna. [caption id="attachment_37656" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Jewish Cemetery in Bandza Georgia[/caption] Bandza is a village located in the western part of Georgia, in the municipality of Martvili, where in the second half of the 18th century Jewish people started to live. The first sources, where we hear about the place date back to 1639-1640 years. In the 18th century the place used to be one of the leading ones; the lord named Phagava brought Jewish Savdagori’s family to solidify the village economically; after this more Jews started inhabiting the area and they created a community. At the beginning of the 20th century Jews built a synagogue in the Jewish district of Bandza. There is also Jewish cemetery near the synagogue. The synagogue is inactive today but many Jewish people visit it very often.