Migdal Shorashim (Jewish Museum)
Being within the czarist Pale of Settlement, the cosmopolitan port attracted Jews from all over the empire, fomenting Jewish commerce and intellectual life. “By the early 20th century,” explains the museum’s doleful curator, “Odessa had the world’s third-largest Jewish population after New York and Warsaw.” The Gateway to Zion, it was called. This is where native son Vladimir Jabotinsky developed his firebrand right-wing Jewish nationalism because cosmopolitan Odessa also suffered some of Europe’s ugliest pogroms (my own great-grandparents’ baby was murdered in front of them in 1905). Some 100,000 Odessa Jews perished in World War II; starting in the 1970’s thousands emigrated to Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, establishing a parallel myth—a Little Odessa frozen in late-Soviet aspic. Today, Odessa’s Jews number only around 35,000. “But we’re still a vibrant community,” declares the curator.