Hanukkah in Tbilisi

Shalva Tetruashvili lighting a Hanukkah candle with his wife and daughter; Photo by N. Alavidze
Agenda.ge, Nov 29, 2013, Tbilisi, Georgia

It is 8 p.m. and it has already got dark in the Georgian capital. You can easily notice two candles lighting through the window of a cozy apartment in the Vera neighborhood, in the centre of Tbilisi.

Celebrating the second night of Hanukkah, Shalva Tetruashvili has lit two candles at home.

Each Hanukkah candle should be lighted by a "helper" candle; Photo by N. Alavidze

"During Hanukkah nights, when there are candles glittering in the menorah, they are telling an ancient, unusual story. If you listen to them attentively, you will hear it. This Jewish legend is widely believed by the Jews across the world, Georgia included.

According to the statistics, there are less than 4,000 Jewish people living in Georgia. They came here 26 centuries ago and the total number of them was about 150,000, at that time.

Shalva Tetruashvili, 72, was born and raised in Tbilisi. He is one of those Georgian Jews who did not leave their home city when the most of their compatriots were returning to Israel. He now lights the Hanukkah candles in Tbilisi every year.

Meaning of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival of lights. The light, as symbol, represents the victory of good over evil and the importance of spirit, freedom, and justice. Jewish people light one candle on the first day of the celebration and the number of candles increases by one each day so that there are nine candles (including Shamash, a helper candle) glittering in the candelabrum (menorah) on the final day of Hanukkah.

"Hanukkah has been celebrated in Georgia for about 26 centuries and what made it possible was the fact that Jews in Georgia have never felt any sense of anti-Semitism and their freedom of religion was always guaranteed, as stated in the Israeli Ambassador in his Hanukkah address in 2011.

In the synagogue

This year, the Hanukkah celebration started on November 28. The Georgian Jewish diaspora gathered in the Tbilisi Great Synagogue. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibahsvili, together with some other ministers, also visited the synagogue. They all had been wearing a kippah (Jewish hat), stressing a friendly relationship between the two nations.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili attended the Hanukkah celebration in the synagogue; Photo by N. Alavidze

After the official part of the holiday, the Tetruashvilis went home to celebrate Hanukkah in a family atmosphere.

At home

Hanukkah is traditionally celebrated at home. After lighting a Hanukkah candle and saying a prayer, all family members sit around a table, enjoying homemade cream donuts baked in oil.

Jewish families, traditionally,cook oily food for Hanukkah; Photo by N. Alavidze

Oily food is eaten during Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle that happened in the 2ndcentury BCE, according to the Jewish belief. It is said that at that time, Israel was attacked by the Greeks and they defiled the cruses full of oil needed for lighting candles in the Holy Temple. "Then the Israeli people found a single cruse that had escaped contamination. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity, Tetruashvili says.

Shalva Tetruashvilis apartment is full of bilingual books. He is especially proud of those he gained directly from the authors. He proudly says that it only took him one day for each to read the two volumes of a thick book telling a Georgian-Jewish love story.

Three of the family members are sitting around the table tonight. Shalva Tetruahsvili himself, his wife, and daughter. He has got two more daughters but they are married and are celebrating Hanukkah with their own families.

The Tetruashvilis are enjoying their Hanukkah dinner after saying a Hanukkah prayer; Photo by N. Alavidze

The conversational topic is Shabbat, the seventh day of the week that is considered as a day for rest by Jews. Shalva Tetruashvili finds it not so difficult to keep Shabbat in Georgia. "In the soviet era, it was difficult, he says, "but not any longer. If you have the fear of god and if you really believe in god, you will do anything easily.

The first toast is for the peace in the two countries. "Both Georgia and Israel are small and surrounded by enemies, Tetruashvili draws a parallel.

Then he tells a story that is followed by common laugh: "A Jew was told you are in each corner of the world but when it comes to your own country, it is so small you cannot even notice it on the map. "Well, the whole world is ours, the Jew replied, "and Israel is our office.

The candles will be glittering through the Tetruashvilis window in Vera neighborhood until December 4, the eighth night of Hanukkah.