Jewish Odessa history: Odessa’s Palestine Committee

Jewish Odessa. Odessa’s Jewish history 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 rooted to Odessa, get genuinely surprised when they see this house on an inconspicuous two-block lane in Odessa’s historic quarter.

Indeed, these are the headquarters of the Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine, also known as Odessa’s Palestine committee. Founded in 1890 with the permission of Russian government, the committee was instrumental in helping to build Erez Israel and later became the only legal Zionist body in Russia. The first president of the Committee was Odessa-born Leon Pinsker, a prominent figure of the local Jewish community, a Zionist pioneer and activist.


Few know that the first and quite significant donation to purchase land for the future Hebrew University of Jerusalem came from Odessa and was made by Odessa’s Palestine Committee!


Being a charitable organization, it existed on the membership fees, which varied from 1,000 to 3 rubles (for comparison, a decent quality pocket watch cost 5 rubles). That was good money back then! Besides providing financial aid to purchase land in Palestine, the Committee supported schools and books publishing in Jewish agricultural settlements in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, Gaza and many others.

In December 1919, two months before Odessa was occupied by the Bolshevik army, a ship named “Ruslan” had left Odessa’s port and the agonizing in the Civil War country for Erets Israel carrying 620 passengers aboard. That was the last activity carried out by the Palestine committee.

In our next post, we’ll share an exciting story about this inconspicuous two-brick lane in Odessa’s historic quarter. Stay tuned! And if you’d like to explore Jewish Odessa, join us for Odessa’s Jewish Heritage tour J. Email at to book.