Battered but Not Broken, Jewish Community in Odesa Carries On

The scene in Odesa is far from normal following the Russian invasion, but local Jews say that while 'it's hard to estimate how many left, we still have prayer services and the synagogue was full on Rosh Hashanah


Members of the Odesa Jewish community celebrate Rosh Hashanah.Credit: Courtesy of Hillel Odessa


ODESA, Ukraine — “We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible,” Tzvi Hirsch, a member of the Odesa Jewish community declared, striding through the city’s Jewish museum on Thursday afternoon.


“It’s hard to estimate how many left, but we still have prayer services and the synagogue was full on Rosh Hashanah” even if “it’s not possible to do everything like normal,” he said, summing up the feelings of multiple residents of the storied southern Ukrainian city who spoke with Haaretz to describe a community battered but not broken by Russia’s invasion earlier this year.


Almost immediately after the start of the invasion, many local Jews joined the stream of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the city, which is a key seaport and was widely believed to be a critical target for Russian forces. Many of those who left were pensioners and the residents of the city’s two orphanages – as well as a large contingent from the local non-Hasidic Orthodox community of Rabbi Shlomo Baksht.

Elderly Jews at a dance class at the Hesed social services center at Odessa’s Beit Grand JCC.Credit: Sam Sokol