Odessa, 1891 – 1893
Once a preeminent Russian grain exporting center, Odessa slid in its economic standing in the late imperial period. However, Odessa was arguably the Russian Empire’s most important center of Jewish life, home to many of Jewry’s most prominent nationalist writers and intellectuals.
Sholem would end up spending three years in Odessa. After his fortune collapsed, he found himself on the run from creditors in Czernowitz, Vienna and Paris. He sent his family to Odessa, where his friend and literary critic, Simon Dubnow, could look out for them. After his mother-in-law helped him settle his debts, Sholem joined his family in Odessa.
Sholem’s time in Odessa was creatively fruitful. His experiences with Odessa’s businessmen formed the basis of his play, Yaknehoz. A whole round of Menachem-Mendel’s inhabit the play, all eager to sign up for another round of speculation. Odessa businessmen, objecting to their portrayal as card-playing gamblers, lobbied the local censor to forbid the play’s publication.