Georgia’s Jews in Peril: How We Can Aid Them


The great Jewish historian Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the events leading up to the First World War has a most enduring and timely title in view of current events: The Guns of August. Once again in the so-called “dog days” of August, another major military and diplomatic crisis has exploded onto the world scene, the brutal war between Russia and its former satellite state of Georgia, now independent and a candidate for membership in NATO. And once again, a Jewish population, in this case the approximately 12,000 Jews of Georgia, has been caught in the crossfire between Russian and Georgian forces and has been placed in real jeopardy.

From the onset of the crisis, the United Jewish Communities/the Federations of North America, an umbrella organization for over 200 local Jewish Federations, including the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, has been accepting emergency donations for both Jews and the general population in the Democratic Republic of Georgia. JAFI, through its office in Tblisi, coordinated the rescue of 200 Jews who were near the war zone on Aug. 10, and JAFI is also assisting Georgian Jews who wish to make aliyah. An estimated 750 Jews fled the war zone to the capital city of Tblisi, according to JAFI and the JDC.

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The UJC/Jewish Federations’ principal overseas partner agencies, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) both maintain services in the region and began to aid the local Jewish community as soon as the conflict erupted. Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, said, “Through the Annual (Jewish Federation) Campaign, and our overseas partner agencies, our Federation system has provided a vital infrastructure that responds immediately.”

As to the conflict itself, there are also serious concerns that affect the international geopolitical landscape and which threaten to escalate into a resumption of the Cold War brand of hostility between the Western alliances of NATO and the European Union, and an increasingly bellicose Russia. Even before the current conflict in Georgia/South Ossetia, Vladimir Putin, now Russian Prime Minister with his hand-picked President Dmitri Medvedev, has moved toward the old autocratic, iron-fisted style of leadership typical of the Soviet and Czarist eras. The conflict in Georgia has its roots in the disputed region of South Ossetia near its border with Russia. The region has an ethnically-mixed, mostly Russian population, and Russia has coveted the area since Georgia was recognized as an independent state with borders that included South Ossetia. When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attempted to reassert Georgian control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the response was a full-scale Russian invasion not just of the disputed region, but of all of Georgia.

As the Jewish Light goes to press, a cease-fire agreement initiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and supported by the United States and the European Union and NATO nations, has been signed in which the Russians are required to withdraw all of their forces from Georgia. At this writing, many Russian troops and emplaced weapons remain in Georgia, and Putin and Medvedev seem to be in no hurry to comply with the demands of the international community. After war broke out on Aug. 8, the conflict quickly spread and the degree of violence, especially on the part of the invading Russians rapidly escalated. An estimated 2,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the early fighting. In Tblisi, JDC staff reached out to another 100 Jewish refugees who fled the fighting in Gori, which Russian forces virtually occupied. JDC provided food, water, medicine and hospitalization to several wounded, while providing emergency supplies to those remaining in Gori.

Both JDC and JAFI do truly heroic ongoing work in Europe, tending to the needs of elderly Holocaust survivors and providing aid to Jews who live in peril in Muslim and Arab nations of North Africa and the Middle East. Both were instrumental in the rescue of 100,000 Jews from Ethiopia in Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.

We urge our readers to immediately make generous donations to the Jewish Federation Georgia Crisis Fund, c/o Jewish Federation of St. Louis, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63112. We are not doomed to sit idly by while innocent people suffer and we must not be indifferent when our neighbors’ blood is spilled. Once again we ask, “If not now, when?”