Born as a Russian city in 1794 after being wrested from the Turks, Odessa became a major destination for Galician and Polish Jews after the reforms of Alexander II in 1861. There were few restrictions on Jews in Odessa, allowing them to prosper and become a driving force in the city.

And there was also great economic opportunity in this port city of moderate temperatures and a diverse population. It had beautiful architecture designed by the Frenchman the Duke de Richelieu, and a very well developed cultural life with theater, opera, and museums.

This is not to say there was no poverty or want or anti-Semitism but there was, above all else, opportunity.

Today, Odessa’s Jewish community thrives with more than 20 local organizations including the Gmilus Hesed welfare center, seven primary and day schools, three synagogues, four kindergartens, two JCCs, a Hillel center, three Jewish newspapers and three kosher restaurants.