Day 13, Tuesday, May 22
There was a time when if you ask someone in Odessa how many Jews are there, he'd tell you: all of its people. Today it is no longer the case. After the murder of more than 250,000 Jews of Odessa's region by Nazis and their Rumanian allies and later Soviet-era emigration, Odessa turned from being half Jewish to only 3% Jewish. Still, the Jews in Odessa have a sizeable presence. As Paul Berger wrote in the Forward: "I came to Odessa chasing a myth. I found it around midnight in a hookah bar on Sobornaya Square, where the music segued effortlessly from trip-hop to a medley of Hebrew songs, “Siman Tov U’Mazal Tov,” “Hava Nagila,” and then back to an electronic beat."
It is the second day of Shavuot and, thank G-d, there are three synagogues in the middle of Odessa: the old Brodsky Synagogue, and two new shuls: one for Litvaks and one for Chabad people. As could be expected, the rabbis of each of these three places, calls himself the Chief Rabbi of Odessa. Our hotel is at the very center of Odessa and thus within a short walk to any of them. Whichever one you choose, you can be guaranteed to meet the One we worship and some very interesting people.
If you are not using this day to take your pre-arranged side-trip to the town/shtetl of your ancestors, and if you are one of those who is less inclined to incline, you can have a lot of fun exploring a nearby Derebasovskaya street, Primorsky Boulevard, fantastic Central Garden, Potemkin Steps, and many other things... all a few steps away.
After lunch, we move through Shevchenko Park to Longeron, the oldest beach in Odessa, to linger and relax along the seaside.
After dinner, we travel across town to visit the gleaming, three-story Beit Grand Jewish cultural center named for its major American donors Nancy and Stephen Grand. The center is one of the most interesting places in Odessa. It is more than a typical American JCC, it is a truly new cultural type of a center, colorful, with a lot of activities and people. There we have the pleasure of meeting some the leading literary figures of Odessa and hear about the lives and work of such Jewish writers of yesterday as Zeev Zhabotinskiy, Nachman Bialik, Shalom Aleichem, Shimon Dubnow, Isaak Bable, and others.
We come to Odessa in time for dinner. After settling in our deluxe hotel, you can relax and explore the evening city on your own. You are next to its main street, the Deribasovskaya which will take you to the Potemkin Steps, made famous by Sergei Eisenstein's film. See also there Odessa's Opera and Ballet Theater and don't forget to try some of the delicious local cuisines at one of nearby Odessa's now numerous restaurants.
Odessa at night is something special. Our hotel is in the center of the city right next to all of its sights and sounds.