There was once a thriving Jewish population in Georgia. Now just 3,200 Jewish believers remain.
There have been Jews in Georgia for 26 centuries. The first are said to have settled in Western Georgia in Babylonian times following the invasion of Israel. Further waves entered fleeing persecution by the Byzantine Empire. Locals claim that at one point there was a vibrant community of 250,000 Jews living in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi alone.
But after the reestablishment of the state of Israel, and the opening of the borders of the USSR in the late-1980s, there was mass Aliyah (relocation from the diaspora back to Israel). Many families moved to Eastern Europe and the US in search of work – several hundred Jewish Georgian families now live in the New York tristate area alone. But this mass exodus means that over the last thirty years, most Jewish settlements in Georgia have gradually been abandoned, or have shrunk to ghostly fragments of their former selves.
There are now just a few cities in Georgia with a Jewish population. In Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city and once a strong Jewish settlement, only 220 people of Jewish heritage remain.
Photographer Tariq Zaidi went in search of those who stayed and found a proud and protective community lost in time.