Odessa’s Jewish history is a fascinating story to tell. Opportunities provided by the fast growing city and port both for the poor Jews from the shtetls and rich Galicia Jews were plentiful. In hundred years Odessa boasted Jewish bankers and traders, architects and doctors. The city became home to the Jewish intellectuals, housed the Haskalah movement and Odessa’s Palestine Committee. The “Star in Exile” to a Jew in the Russian Empire during the first half of the nineteenth century, Odessa evolved into the “Gates of Zion” several decades later.
“Lebn vi Got in Odes!” went a traditional Yiddish phrase. “Live like God in Odessa”. Indeed, a 19th century Odessa in Isaac Babel’s words was a “star in exile” for a Jewish person. Why was it so?
The nineteenth-century Odessa
Odessa’s Jewish heritage comes as no surprise to most of the city’s guests. But even those, who have heard of “Little Odessa” in New York’s Long Island and are well aware of the numbers of the “Soviet Jews” in Israel, whose roots are firmly imprinted to Odessa, get genuinely surprised when they see this house on an inconspicuous two-block lane in Odessa’s historic quarter.