Vani Jewish Cemetery
Vani’s Jewish cemetery is located on the bank of Chishura river, near the town centre, about 500 metres from the synagogue. It was established in the 19th century, and according to Nisan Babalikashvili who has worked with epitaphs from the Vani cemetery, there are burials from 1885. The last burial in the Vani cemetery took place in 1989. Vani is located in the Imereti region in Western Georgia, about 41 km south-west from Kutaisi. The town’s history dates back to ancient times. According to archaeological data, settlement in the Vani area already existed in the 6th century BC.
Jews were living in Vani from the end of the 18th century. The proximity of Kutaisi and Kulashi as well as their established Jewish communities suggests that Vani Jewry could be connected with the two centres. The Jewish district in Vani is in the town centre, and the proximity of the Jewish cemetery to the town centre suggests that the cemetery was in use from the early period of the contemporary town’s development. The Chishura river, which crosses Vani’s town centre, flows into the Rioni, the main river in Western Georgia. The Rioni links the Black Sea (Poti) with Kutaisi and the region of Racha-Lechkhumi. The river is partially navigable, which made it an historical trading route. According to the documents of the USSR’s Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults, the synagogue in Vani was built in 1911. The building, with an area of 180 square metres, was made of stone and brick and, in the mid-20th century, about 160 people were attending the synagogue on the religious holidays and about 60 people attended more regularly. Shabtai Tsur, a Georgian-Jewish politician and diplomat who twice served as Israel’s ambassador to Georgia, was born in Vani in 1951, and one of the main streets of Vani was named after him.