Batumi Jewish Section in Municipal Cemetery
Batumi is the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara and the second-largest city in Georgia, located on the coast of the Black Sea in the country’s southwest. Archaeological excavations have revealed there was a settlement there at the end of the second and beginning of the first millennia BCE. In the 2nd century CE, Roman Emperor Hadrian’s legion camp was located in the region. In the 5th century, it became part of Kartli. Since the 11th century, it was a fortress town. After the 16th century, Batumi came under the jurisdiction of Ottoman Empire.
The first Jews appeared in Batumi largely after the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. The Jewish community was founded in 1878 – after the city became part of the Russian Empire. In 1889, many Jews who were living there without official authorization were expelled. According to the official statistics, 31 Jewish families remained, and according to unofficial sources, about 100 Jewish families remained. The number of Jews in Batumi, however, again increased rapidly. By 1897, there were 1,179 Jews living in Batumi. One of the oil refineries was owned jointly by the Rothschild family and Jewish investors in Russia. The Jewish population numbered 3,700 in 1923 (6.1% of the total population) and 1,778 in 1939 (2,54% of the total population).
In 1878, the Ashkenazi Synagogue and Jewish cemetery were opened. At the beginning of the 1880’s, there were two synagogues in Batumi (Ashkenazi and Georgian), both of which were closed in 1890 by the government. In 1899, a new prayer house was open. Since 1881, there was an active Talmud-Torah; from 1901, a Jewish school in the Russian language; and in 1898, a Zionist organization. In 1899 the Jews of Batumi received permission from Emperor Nicholas II of Russia to build a synagogue in the city. The construction of the ‘Ashkenazi’ stone synagogue began in 1900 and was completed in 1904 under the guidance of architect Semion Vulkovich, who took inspiration from the synagogues of Amsterdam and the Hague. The Batumi synagogue was used by Ashkenazi Jews in the city until 1923. In 1929, the Soviet Government decided to close the building and open a sports centre in its place. In 1993, the building of the Batumi Synagogue was returned to the Jewish community and renovated and restored in 1998. In 2011, the Synagogue was granted cultural heritage status.
The Batumi Synagogue – a beautiful white building—is located at 33 Vazha-Pshavela street, in the old part of the town. Currently, about 70 Jews still live in Batumi. The Jews mostly go to the synagogue on Saturdays (Shabbat) and holidays. The Batumi Synagogue is also frequently visited by tourist groups who come from Israel. The old synagogue—which was built in 1930—has been abandoned for several years and was on the verge of collapse for some time. The building collapsed in Batumi, 9 March Street, in 2015. In the same year, the building was granted the status of a cultural heritage monument.
The Jewish Cemetery in Batumi is located in the Beenze district, next to the Georgian cemeteries. It has been in existence for a century and a half and is still active today. It was founded in 1878. The oldest visible tomb is dated 1906, and the most recent is dated 2019.