Once upon a time: A Jewish history in Georgia

Author: Teona Tkhelidze

Illustrator: Lika Gurgenishvili

19.02.21
Topic: Women Minorities

At times the life of Roza Tavdidishvili sounds like one of her fairy tales. 

Her story, like any good tale, starts in a time far away—the end of the 19th century—and includes a strong hero overcoming challenges to help the less fortunate and give a voice to the oppressed. It also includes a hidden treasure, rediscovered years after the hero’s death.

Tavdidishvili was born into a Georgian Jewish family in 1886, when Georgia was still part of the Russian Empire. Jewish communities have thrived in Georgia for centuries—2600 years by most counts—and were well assimilated in society during Tavdidishvili’s life.

She was, by all accounts, an amazing character. By the time she was 40, Georgia had reestablished its independence and lost it again. Despite limited rights for women during her life, she created a space for herself as a journalist, activist, public figure and writer.

For two years, from 1926-1928 Tavdidishvili served as a member of the Kutaisi City Council and the Executive Committee. She headed the Women’s Delegation Club in the Jewish Quarter of the city and helped young Jewish pupils read and write. 

She also worked tirelessly to promote women’s equality, especially through the right to education and the right to work outside the home. 

“All her life Roza fought for better educational opportunities and a better future for the Jewish people. That was the reason why she decided to write down everything,” noted her granddaughter, Dodo Chikvashvili.

“She was a representative of the generation who thought much about the past, present, and according to it, about the future. It led her to publish an academic paper in 1940; an ethnographic essay about the life of Jewish people living in Kutaisi in olden times. This publication unites stories about the Jewish holidays, about Jewish legends, about folklore, about proverbs and puzzles.”

But her most interesting work was largely forgotten for years. 

A collection of 22 notebooks full of original fairy tales penned by Tavdidishvili in the language Georgian Jews spoke, known as Kivruli, which the Georgian Literature Museum received shortly after her death in 1967.

The fairy tales represent a unique window into Georgian-Jewish relations, according to Lasha Bakradze, the head of the museum.

“The analysis of those fairytales would be great, so it is really important for them to be published as a book,” he said. “On one hand, it’s good to learn more about Georgian-Jewish relationships and on the other hand, it is immensely interesting to know whether there is anything in common between Georgian-Jewish tales and other countries’ fairy tales.”

Chikvashvili highlighted that her grandmother wanted to document the Georgian-Jewish experience, and give the community, which until Tavdidishvili depended on oral history to learn their past, a written history.

“In my opinion, one of the main motivations which drove her to create these fairytales was the fact that nothing had existed about Georgian-Jewish relationships in a written format,” she said. 

Bakradze noted that Tavdidishvili wrote the fairy tales in 1937-1938: that was during a period of Soviet ideology, and before the establishment of the Jewish state, which adds additional layers to the works. 

“It would be great if Georgian and Jewish children read them, because the past which is lost now would become familiar for them,” he said.

 

This edition is produced with the support of the Israeli Embassy in Georgia.

To see the full project click the link

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