New Georgian envoy seeks deeper ties

New Georgian envoy seeks deeper ties
By David Horovitz

July 15, 2005

Lasha Zhvania, the new Georgian ambassador who delighted President
Moshe Katsav last month by presenting his credentials in Hebrew and
singing Hatikva, is urging Israeli tourists to visit his country –
with his own life story constituting the best evidence of the potential
affinity between the two nations.

Zhvania, who perfected his Hebrew during a 1999-2001 stint here as his
country’s consul, has been reported to be “of Jewish descent.” In fact,
he said simply in an interview this week, “I am Jewish. My mother is
Jewish. I know the halacha!”

Ironically, while most of his mother’s family have long since moved
to Israel, she is still living in Georgia – “She loves the country,”
he said.

His parents met at the entrance exams for medical school. His mother
went on to study medicine and is a pharmacist. His late father was
a biologist.

For Georgia’s very traditional Jewish community, which he estimated
now numbers some 8,000, his mother’s marrying out was unusual and
frowned upon. Only after his father died, he said, did the family
resume communications with her.

A former deputy foreign minister, the ambassador first visited Israel
– along with his mother – in 1988. He learned Hebrew initially
in a Jewish Agency school at home, and improved it on his earlier
posting here.

“I enrolled to study Greek at Tel Aviv University,” he said. “And,
obviously, they were teaching the Greek in Hebrew. I didn’t learn
that much Greek, but my Hebrew improved a lot.”

Asked his age, Zhvania said he was 31, adding lightly “which is pretty
old. The president [Mikheil Saakashvili] is only 37.”

Zhvania highlighted historic connections between his country and the
holy land, and more modern ties and identifications, too.

He cited a widely held tradition in the Georgian church that has a
Rabbi Elios of Mtskheta, which is situated not far from the Georgian
capital of Tbilisi, being present in the holy land at the time of
Jesus’s death, and bringing Jesus’s clothes home to his sister and
mother. The sister, Sidonia, died of grief at the sight of Jesus’s
clothes, and a church was later built at the reputed spot – today a
venerated cathedral.

“Every Georgian child knows this tradition,” said Zhvania, adding
that it was at the root of Georgian affection for Jews.

When Christianity came to Georgia in the fourth century, he added,
it was spread by the niece of the patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Nina,
and the consequent reciprocal influences saw a large Georgian community
here, notably in Jerusalem’s Malcha and Katamon neighborhoods, and
the arrival of place names in Georgia like Zion, Tavor and Bethlehem.

More recently, Zhvania asserted, the first Jews to be allowed to leave
the Soviet Union were 18 families from Tbilisi who sought permission
to emigrate in 1968. He said about 100,000 Jews of Georgian origin
live in Israel today, with most of the community having left in the
early 1970s.

Zhvania added that in the so-called Rose Revolution, which saw Eduard
Shevardnadze ousted as president amid public protests over attempted
manipulation of legislative elections, some Georgians brandished
Israeli flags as a sign of the democratic freedoms to which they

“There are many similarities between our two countries,” he said,
noting Georgia’s near five-million population and relative proximity to
Israel. He said Georgia was deep into a process of economic, legal and
other reforms. In its efforts to encourage Israeli tourism, he said,
Georgia last month canceled visa requirements for Israelis.

Asked how Georgia has voted at the United Nations on resolutions
relating to Israel, the ambassador said it only recently regained
voting rights at that body. It had owed the UN $12 million in
contributions, and had now paid the first third.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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