August 28, 2008 / 27 Av 5768
My First Day in Georgia
Idan in Gori
I have just returned to Tbilisi from a full day in Gori. I have so many thoughts it is difficult for me to begin. I keep seeing the destruction, the abject poverty and the trauma of the people I met.
I was hosted by two incredible leaders, Gregory Brodsky, head of the Jewish Agency's delegation in Georgia, and Dr. Beso Menasherov, the "father" of the Jewish community in Gori and the Jewish Agency's local coordinator. Both men saved many Jews during the war, and continue to tirelessly take care of the community's needs.
A scene from Gori
The Russian tanks and soldiers have left Gori. But the devastation is everywhere. Beso told me that during the war people hid in their basements in panic and hysteria. No one knew what to do. He went from door to door to get the Jews out and send them to Tbilisi.
We visited a number of families. When I told them that I was from Israel they were overcome with emotion. Some hugged me. Others started crying. I felt the importance of my mission here. I felt that I had the whole Jewish world behind me, because no matter where and when Jews are in need, others Jews come together to help them. And by telling their story I am a part of this incredible phenomenon.
I met the Mensharshvili's, a couple with two teenage children who went to live in Germany for two years and then returned to their hometown, Gori. On that same day, the war broke out. They are still reeling from the fear of the bombs and tanks. They are sending their two teenage children to a camp in Israel in mid-September, set up by the Jewish Agency, and they told me of their plans to make aliyah.
Idan (far right) with the Mensharshvilis
I met Amalia Gigashvili, who cannot move her arm or leg on one side. Her children and grandchildren live in Israel. She could not stop crying, she is still so frightened. "Why don't you come to Israel where your children can take care of you?" I asked her. She did not have an answer. Then she thought hard and said, "Because it is hot." And the absurdity was it was 35 degrees Celsius in Gori.
Moshe Babashvili and his wife
Beso told me that many of the older people are afraid to stay and afraid to leave. The community is suffering from trauma. There are people who had no homes to come back to after they fled to Tbilisi. And others, like Moshe Babashvili, the gabbai of Gori's small synagogue, and his wife, who live in miserable conditions. My heart lurched when I looked at the blackened walls and walked on the shaky floor of their barely furnished box-sized apartment.
I kept thinking today about the value of human life, and the Jewish attitude toward this. How much we value one life. How much our people will do, how far we will go to save a life. I saw it here in Georgia. I saw it when I served as a soldier in the Israeli army in places like Jenin and Gaza. And I see it every time that Jews are in danger and the State of Israel, without thinking twice, takes immediate action.
It never ceases to amaze and humble me.
Tomorrow, I will try to visit Eter's mother, the woman I met at the absorption center in Ashdod. Beso has found out that she lives in a small village outside Gori. I will pray with Georgia's Jews on Shabbat.
Be part of these efforts, click here.
To learn more about recent Jewish Agency activities in Georgia, click here.
For UJC Georgia Crisis blog, click here.