Gori Jewish Section on municipal cemetery
Gori is a city in eastern Georgia, which serves as the regional capital of Shida Kartli. The name is from the Georgian word gora (გორა), meaning “heap,” or “hill.” The history of Jews in Gori goes back many years. There is one large synagogue and a Jewish cemetery. The cemetery is located on the Kvernaki Range, on the edge of a town, about a 20-minute walk from the city centre. Hebrew inscriptions on the tombs are legible. Jews often come from Israel to visit the graves of their ancestors.
Gori is one of the oldest cities in Georgia. According to geographer Vakhushti Batonishvili, the Gori Fortress was built by the Byzantine emperor, Caesar Heracles, as a storehouse for military equipment in the 7th century, when he was on his way to Persia and passed through Georgia. Some scholars think that the ‘Gorizena-Gorsena’ mentioned by Strabo might be Gori. The name of the city comes from the rocky hill in the area, on which an old fortress was built. Jewish settlement in Kartli dates back to an earlier period, while Jewish settlement in Gori began mainly at the turn of the 19th century. From the beginning of the 19th century, were migrating Jews from villages to cities. Since the abolition of dictatorship, the situation of the Jews improved. According to French traveler Jean Chardin, Gori was an important trading centre in the 1670’s, and thus it can be assumed there were Jews in the city from this time (if not earlier). Nevertheless, the Jews did not build a special a synagogue in Gori.
Jews have been in Gori since the beginning of the 19th century. According to a survey of Russian dominions in the Caucasus, in 1831 there were 504 Jewish men living in Gori Uyezd, an administrative-territorial unit of the Russian Empire. All domestic trade in Gori was led by Jews and Armenians. “The Caucasus Calendar” records only four Jews living in Gori in 1843, while the number in Gori Uyezd increased at that time to 1,506. Almost half of them were merchants or craftsmen, and the rest worked in agriculture. According to the newspaper, in 1860 there were 1,464 Jews in town. In 1897, 3,222 Jews lived in Gori Uyezd, and 64 in Gori. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 40 Jewish families living in Gori, most of whom lived in one large two-story building. At the end of the second floor of the building, one large room was used as a synagogue. Beneath it, in the basement below the first floor, was a single bath, which belonged to the entire Jewish community. In 1936, when all religious buildings were demolished or closed and clergy were persecuted, the Jews of Gori managed to buy a new one-story private house in which a synagogue functioned. Later, the second floor of the synagogue was built and was opened in 1953. There was even a traditional oven for a matzah bakery and a mikveh (ritual bath) near the Gori Synagogue.
The oldest legible tombstone in the Jewish cemetery is dated 1939. The cemetery is still active today. E. Ermakov wrote at the end of the 19th century that “Gori is surrounded by old cemeteries with many tombs and small shrines, similar to the Jewish synagogues. It is a house with a roof, which reminds us of Noah’s Ark.” There was also a “small Jewish hotel” in the house next to the old fortress in Gori, where in 1869, the Jewish traveler Yehuda Halev Cherni stayed for a few days. Nothing more is known about this hotel. Joseph Stalin was also born in Gori, to whom a museum is dedicated.