Today your guide will take you on a tour of some of Odessa’s main Jewish cultural sights.
The city’s rich Jewish history goes back many centuries and some of modern Judaism’s main figures like Meir Dizengoff – Tel Aviv’s first mayor, lived in the city. Jews settled here in the 1700s when the Russian Empress Catherine the Great created the Pale of Settlement along Russia’s south-western border, in which permanent residence of Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish settlement was generally prohibited. By the beginning of the Second World War, about 30% of Odessa’s population was Jewish and the city was also a main center of Jewish culture and the arts with Jewish theaters, libraries, schools, and literary salons. Writers like Sholem Aleichem, Chaim Nachman Bialik, and Isaac Babel all lived in Odessa and described it in their works.
You will see Odessa’s former Central Synagogue on Yevreyskaya (Jewish) Street, built in 1853 in a combination of Moorish and neo-Romantic style. After the October Revolution, the synagogue shared the sad fate of other houses of worship and was turned into a Natural History Museum before being bombed and looted in the Second World War. Used as a sports center during the Communist period, the building was returned to Jewish ownership in the 1990s and renovated with international help.
Also, on Yevreiskaya Street, you will see the house where the Zionist leader, journalist, and author Vladimir Jabotinsky once lived. A memorial plaque was unveiled during a ceremony here in 1997 in the presence of Jabotinsky’s grandson. Your guide will also take you to the newly reconstructed synagogue of the local Shomrei Shabbat congregation. The Beit Chabad synagogue also houses the administrative board of the city’s Shomrei Shabbos congregation, the editorial board of a newspaper of the same name, and a kosher kitchen.
This afternoon, you will also visit the Brodsky Synagogue, which was first opened in 1841 by the local Brodsky Jews, who migrated to Odessa in the first quarter of the 19th Century from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany and quickly became engaged in large-scale commercial operations, especially in the grain market, which allowed them to gradually become the wealthiest sector of Odessa’s Jewish community. The name Brodsky was derived from the town of Brody in the Galicia region, now in Poland.
Just west of the city center, you may stroll through the Moldovanka neighborhood which, before the Soviet revolution, was main Jewish quarter. This is where the famous journalist, playwright, and writer Isaac Babel was born and one of the streets bears his name.