Tango in Tblisi: A Life of Music, Dance, and Jewish Community

A champion ballroom dancer, David Volgust recounts his boyhood in Jewish Georgia and tells his JDC story.

By David Volgust - JDC Client | April 19, 2022

David Volgust – a JDC client in Tblisi, Georgia – found his life's passion in music and dance.

An accomplished dancer, former engineer, and musician, David Volgust has lived a full life. When Volgust retired, he turned to JDC for food, medicine, and other lifesaving help. Here, Volgust recounts his boyhood in Jewish Georgia, as well as how JDC continues to provide him with Jewish community, homecare, and the vital necessities for a dignified life.    

Even during Soviet times — when I was a young boy — I was connected to Jewish life. My father went to synagogue and attended community events. My neighbors were also Jews. Religious holidays weren’t really observed, but despite Soviet repression, my family still celebrated Passover; my aunt would purchase matzah at the synagogue, and my mom would make forshmak (a herring salad).  

Though my community was strong, I still faced occasional prejudice. When I was little, my non-Jewish neighbor often checked me for what they called “Jewish signs”; they asked if I could pronounce the letter “r”, but I couldn’t. They thought that if a person couldn’t pronounce the letter “r”, they were obviously  Jewish. Years later, I remember this with humor, but it was challenging when I was young.

When I grew up, I entered the army. And it was there that my love for guitar — and for music more fully — blossomed. A friend in my division played guitar so beautifully, I’d always ask him to play for me. I asked him so much that one day he got angry and said, “Learn to play the guitar yourself!” I was so taken aback that I picked up the guitar and learned.

I enjoyed music, but it wasn’t my main profession. After the military, I studied engineering and worked on my city’s power supply project. After work, though, I taught kids to play guitar, and so music remained in my life. 

Once, on vacation,I saw a beautiful couple dance the tango. I was so enchanted that I started ballroom dancing at the first opportunity. All my life, my body had told me to do something — play sports, exercise —  but nothing worked out: Dancing turned out to be my only passion after music. At the age of 64, I returned to dancing for two years and performed in the senior championship. To be honest, I don’t think I deserved to win, but my partner was a wonderful lady who deserved it — and thanks to her, we won the championship.

I am a strong introvert, and because of this, everything in my life has been very difficult for me. I was even embarrassed to dance with the ladies, but my teacher helped me overcome this awkwardness.

Being an introvert has its advantages, though. The pandemic hasn’t affected me very much, and I enjoy the alone time. Through it all, what’s been clear to me is that JDC has saved me. This is the only organization that takes care of me and helps me survive. Without them, I would be lost.

JDC’s winter relief helps me a lot — it gets cold here in Georgia, but with the stove JDC gave me, I stay warm all winter long. And because of my wonderful JDC homecare worker, I no longer feel alone in the world; I know that someone cares about me.

I lived all my life in my parents’ house in the center of Tbilisi. But the house fell into disrepair and, after several earthquakes, it was destroyed. Thanks to JDC, I wasn’t left without a home: I was moved to an apartment, and I’m able to live in peace.

Because of my JDC homeware worker, I no longer feel alone in the world: I know that someone cares about me.

JDC doesn’t just deliver food, medicine, and homecare — they also deliver Jewish life. As a child, my father talked about going to synagogue, but I honestly had no interest, I thought that was a place for the elderly. And when I grew up, I attended, but didn’t like it. When I began looking for another community, I discovered a JDC-supported Jewish library, where they taught me about the history of Jewish books like the Torah. I was so inspired that I returned to the synagogue with joy.

When I turned 34, I became very sick; I estimated that I’d live only until 50. I wasn’t planning on more years — it was quite a serious illness. Then, when I turned 50, I decided I didn’t feel so bad after all — why not try for 60? And then, when I turned 60, I decided I needed two more years to see the new millenium. Now, at 82, I don’t know how many years I have left. 

I do know, though, that JDC has helped make these years worth living. 

A champion dancer, musician, and former engineer, David Volgust, 82, receives food, medicine, and homecare from JDC.

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