David Baazov Museum of History of the Jews of Georgia and Georgian-Jewish Relations
The David Baazov Museum of History of the Jews of Georgia and Georgian-Jewish Relations is a representation of the centuries-old history of Jewish life in Georgia. Located in Old Tbilisi at 3 Anton Katalikosi Street, the museum offers its visitors a variety of archaeological, ethnographic, epigraphic and historical exhibits that include old manuscripts, photographs, artistic displays, video archives and more.
The Georgian Jews History Museum in Tbilisi is named after David Baazov, a distinguished Georgian-Jewish public and religious figure and one of the leading Zionists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1918, David Baazov founded the first Georgian-Jewish Zionist paper call Ebraelis Khma (The Voice of the Jew) and helped to organize the All-Jewish Congress in Tbilisi, which included representatives from every Georgian and Russian Jewish community in the country, save Kutaisi.
The museum was established in 1933, but unfortunately was closed in 1951 as a result of the anti-Semitic movement taking place at that time in the USSR. The museum re-opened only in 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The original museum building was a dome-shaped synagogue constructed in 1914, but in 2013-14 the structure was completely renovated. Between 1933 and 1951, museum personnel studied the history of the Georgian Jews and collected many cultural and material artifacts. In a document describing the museum’s expositions and subject matter, the demonstration of the peaceful Georgia-Jewish relations is declared to be the main theme of the museum.
The following is represented at the exhibition:
- Georgia-Palestine historical and cultural relations
- Various periods of Jewish migration to Georgia
- The makeup of Georgian Jews (anthropological, ethnic, religious, cultural, social, etc.)
- Monuments of Georgian Jews’ spiritual and material culture
- Various photographs, maps and artwork
- Stories of Georgian self-sacrifice to save the Jews in the beginning of the 20th century during anti-Semitic pograms in the Russian Empire
- Periods of Jewish emigration from Georgia to their historically native land and to other countries
Georgia has been home to one of the oldest Jewish diasporas in the world. According to the Georgian Chronicles, Jewish people arrived in Georgia after the conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, and the subsequent Babylonian exile. Another wave of Jewish refugees reached Georgia in the 1st century AD after being exiled by Vespasian, who besieged Jerusalem during the Jewish rebellion. The second wave settled in Mtskheta alongside the Jewish communities already in existence there.
For centuries, Jewish diasporas have lived in Georgia without experiencing the anti-Semitism that characterized life for many Jews in central and Eastern Europe, imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.
The Jewish population in Georgia reached a peak of about 80 000 in the 1960 and 70s. This number decreased sharply when Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union became feasible, and the majority returned to Israel or moved to other countries. A large majority of those who decided to stay still reside in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. There are also small Jewish settlements in Kutaisi, Gori, Surami, Oni, Akhaltsikhe and Batumi. In most of these places you can find synagogues, many of which are still active.
The language of the Georgian Jews is Judeo-Georgian, an interesting mix of the Georgian and Hebrew languages.
In honor of the Jewish community that for centuries lived in Old Tbilisi, one of the squares in Tbilisi is called Jerusalem Square. Within a five minutes’ walk from Jerusalem Square is the David Baazov Museum of the Jews of Georgia and Georgian-Jewish Relations.
For a glimpse of centuries-old peaceful relations between Georgians and Georgian Jews, you should definitely visit the David Baazov Museum of History of the Jews of Georgia and Georgian-Jewish Relations.