Poti Jewish Cemetery
Poti has traditionally been a trading centre in Western Georgia as a Black Sea port city since the 19th century and is connected with Tbilisi by the railroad. While its modern history dates back to the 16th century, the history of the settlement itself dates to the 7th-6th century BCE when a Greek colony existed in the area. Jewish traders were going to the city from Lechkhumi (Lailashi) from the beginning of the 19th century. In the second half of the 19th century, when the area around the port of Poti began to significantly develop, several Jewish families migrated to Poti from Tskhinvali, and later on Jews from Sujuna, Bandza, Kutaisi, and Senaki also came to the city. In 1881, the local newspaper particularly mentioned Jewish merchants in town.
At the end of the 19th century around 160-230 Jews lived in Poti while in the first years of the 20th century the Jewish population of the town numbered 850-900 families, including 541 Georgian Jewish families. The Jewish community of Poti consisted not only of Georgian Jews, but Ashkenazi Jews as well who began to settle in strategically valuable towns in Georgia when it was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the second half of the 19th century. In the beginning of the 20th century the rabbi of Poti was Ashkenazi Moshe Levin. Later, he was replaced by Benzon Levin, the son-in-law of Abraham Khvoles, who moved to Poti from Tskhinvali with his wife, Rachel Khvoles. In 1918 Rabbi Michael Elashvili moved to Poti from Sujuna. In the beginning of the 20th century a Zionist group was active in Poti. Remarkably, the Jewish population of the town dropped drastically after Georgia was incorporated into the USSR. In 1970, there were 1,170 Jews in Poti. The end of 1960’s and the beginning of 1970’s was marked by the fight of Georgian Jews to leave the Soviet Union and make Aliyah. Khaim Mikhelashvili—who was living in Poti—and his sons Abuli and Aron Mikhelashvili, took an active role in this struggle, signing a well-known letter from 18 Georgian Jewish families. This marked the beginning of migration of Poti Jews to Israel. By the 1980’s, up to 50 Georgian Jewish families out of 600 families remained in Poti. After the second wave of Aliyah in the 1990’s, the Poti Synagogue was no longer active.
The Jewish cemetery in Poti was in use until at least since the beginning of the 20th century. A brick synagogue was built in Poti in 1902. The earliest legible tombstones in the cemetery date to the beginning of the 20th century (1906), while the most recent burial took place in 2017.