El Al Airlines evacuated a total of 400 Israelis — plus 30 new Jewish immigrants — from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi Tuesday in an emergency airlift just hours after Russia ordered a cease-fire.
“The new immigrants told me that there were many more people who are considering aliyah,” said Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, which oversees Israeli immigration. “There are 12,000 Jews in Georgia. Our office in Tbilisi is still operating and we anticipate that more people will apply for aliyah,” he told The Jewish Week by phone from Israel.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry arranged for two El Al Boeing 757 airplanes to carry out the airlift after Arkia, an Israeli carrier, reportedly canceled its regularly scheduled flights because Russian bombs had damaged the radar at the Tbilisi airport.
Georgia Airlines was also able to fly Tuesday and brought out 100 Israelis. Jankelowitz said all of the Jews on the three planes — except for the 30 immigrants — had Israeli passports and were either vacationing or doing business in Georgia.
Among the immigrants were Robert and Nana Djanasheili of Tbilisi who came out with their grandchildren, Chava, 10, and Yossi Djanasheili, 13. Jankelowitz said the children, who live in Holon, Israel, had been vacationing with their grandparents.
When fighting erupted last week, he said, their parents called and “said come home and bring your grandparents with you.”
Also making aliyah was Levan Magalashvili, a dentist, and his wife, Nata, a doctor, both of whom practiced in Moscow.
“They had planned to make aliyah from Moscow with their 18-month-old child, but they had to go to Gori to get a certificate from the local rabbi saying they are Jewish,” Jankelowitz said. “They left the kid with her parents in Moscow.”
When the fighting started, the couple fled Gori for Tbilisi before Russian jets bombed Gori Tuesday. One of them plans to fly to Moscow to pick up their child, Jankelowitz said.
On Monday, about 200 Jews left Gori at the urging of Vissarion Manasherov, the community’s leader. He told JTA that fewer than a dozen Jews remained in the city.
“I was the last to leave,” he said.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) estimates that more than 700 Jews have been displaced in recent days. The JDC has eight representatives in the region to help relocate local Jews.
During the bombing of Gori Tuesday, a bomb fell near a group journalists standing near the town square. One was killed and two injured, including Tzadok Yehezkeli, 52, a reporter with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot. He was evacuated to Tbilisi, where he was reported in serious but stable condition after surgery.