One of the exciting pieces of this trip and spending a few extra days in Georgia was that my friend and travel buddy Whitney was able to join me. After the trip ended we ventured to Kutaisi, did some hiking, visited a tea plantation, visited the two synagogues in Kutaisi, and learned how crazy the drivers are in the windy roads of rural Georgia. I’m fairly certain we were within a centimeter of hitting at least 2 cows and potentially a pig.
We then spent a few nights in the mountains at a homestay that is also a winery. It was very rural, it also rained for most of those days. We attempted to see a synagogue in Oni, a small community that has really shrunk in size over the years. Unfortunately it was locked up from the outside with no way to get in, and the language barriers strong to be able to find the right people to open it.
This experience inspired a thought about Jewish communities. Shocking I know.
We saw three different synagogues in Georgia (actually five but I'll talk about three). In some way each represents the potential direction of communities like those in Georgia.
In Tbilisi we saw a fairly active large synagogue mostly filled for two services on Friday night. Life exists and while it may be changing with an influx of Israeli’s and evolving from its traditions it’s alive and seemingly well with another shul down the street.
In Kutaisi, I’m less aware of the numbers and experience, but there were two synagogues right next to one another, and the one we were able to get into looks as if it’s still in use, albeit I’m sure it’s mostly open for groups to look at and has an aging local community.
In Oni, tiny town a reminder of what once was or what could end up being for other similar places. A community in the mountain countryside, whose residents slowly left over time and from a quick Wikipedia search seems as if the community slowly dwindled until it clearly became necessary to lock up the synagogue indefinitely.
When I think about these communities I wonder if this is the direction and what is going to happen? There is a lot being done but should we be doing anything differently? How do we capture the stories of these places, if they cannot survive? Is that just the natural evolution of Jewish life? In some places we really are more temporary for generations and then continue to move on. Israel’s existence could change that story, but it really shows a tangible example of the meaning and evolution of communities. It also makes a case for the importance of continuing to inspire and connect Jewish life in each of these places.
Reflection on group travel.
It was this experience of traveling as a group, on my own, and with a friend that I’ve even begun to really understand how huge of an impact my travels this year will have on me. I often have to think through which experience I should share, when does it become too much for my audience, and when am I adding value to a conversation, or when am I overwhelming others with my stories from the field.
Traveling with Entwine on a group trip and going with my friend was amazing. Not only did it remind me that there are like-minded people out there who want to travel, experience global Jewish community and be interested in learning and having these conversations. It reminded me of how big of an experience the RIG fellowship really is. Seeing others have challenging conversations, debriefing, and being impacted by a week long trip, I remembered that my year is full of these experiences. It reminds me of the moments to slow down and appreciate. To sit in the mountains, listen to the rain, and read books. Which I did a bit of.
Georgia is full of experiences. The language is really difficult to even figure out what word they are saying and not everyone speaks English. At one point we had to have both a mother and daughter, one speaking Russian and one Georgian communicating with both the place we were staying and the taxi that was supposed to take us there. Additionally, we watched the car we were to be driven back to Tbilisi in have the tires filled up not once, but twice.
Needless to say it was an adventure, and a fun one that included good wine along the way and I’ll say it again, really good food.
Onto Israel, here I am. Time to get to work.