“You know you’re Gorsky when….” This lighthearted entry on a Gorsky-Kavkazi Facebook page provides some humorous insights about this community living in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Answers include such tidbits as “You have thirty cousins” and “Your parents drink six cups of tea a day.” For those who have never heard of the Gorsky-Kavkazi, just figuring out what to call them is an achievement!
They are typically known as “Mountain Jews,” a loose translation of the Russian name “Gorsky-Kavkazi.” They often simply go by “Gorsky” or “Kavkazi,” the word for their ancestral homeland in the Caucasus Mountains. To add to the confusion, they call themselves “Juhuro” in their native language, Judeo-Tat, which is a version of ancient Persian mixed with Hebrew.
They claim to be descendents of the Jews taken captive by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC. In 1869, the Gorsky-Kavkazi helped the Russians defeat Islamic armies that wanted an independent Shari’a state in the Caucasus.
In return, they were spared the anti-Semitic persecution experienced by the Russian Jews. When the Soviets took over the Caucasus region in 1926, the Gorsky-Kavkazi were incorporated into the Soviet republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, and Azerbaijan. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, most of the Gorsky-Kavkazi population has left the Caucasus for Moscow, Israel, or the United States.
“All our customs come straight from the Torah,” most Gorsky-Kavkazis claim although scholars see influences of Zoroastrianism in some of their superstitions, stemming from their roots in ancient Persia. With their mystical approach to Judaism, they are much like Hasidim, but living under Soviet secularism made them less rigid about following all the mitzvots (commandments) and more accepting of the nonreligious in their community. However, because they held fast to their religious traditions during the Soviet years, they retained far more of their faith and culture than the Russian Jews. Only a handful of Messianic believers are known.
The Gorsky-Kavkazi are largely unnoticed by Christians, even among ministries to Jewish people. Pray for believers to befriend and tell them of Jesus, the Messiah.
Pray God will work in the minds and hearts of Gorsky-Kavkazi people to understand that a Messiah has come and entreats them to join him in his redemptive plan for all mankind.