The Arty Semite

Monument to Isaac Babel Erected in Odessa

By Vladislav Davidzon

  • Print
  • Share Share

Courtesy of The World Odessit Club

Eighty-five years after bestowing “The Odessa Tales” and “Red Cavalry” to both the Russian and the Jewish modernist literary canons; 71 years after a 20-minute show trial resulted in execution by firing squad; 54 years after his posthumous rehabilitation by Soviet authorities, and several decades after plans were first laid, a monument to Isaac Babel has been erected in his home town of Odessa, across the street from his former apartment building on the corner of Rishelyevskaya and Zhukovskaya streets.

Located in a plaza in front of the lumpy neo-Soviet columns of high school number 117, the monument depicts a frocked Babel sitting next to a massive “wheel of fate,” scribbling in a notebook while gazing dreamily into the distance.

The tribute was dedicated September 4 by The World Odessit Club, a loose confederation of associations that produces nostalgic get-togethers. Expatriates of the cosmopolitan port town collected money for the sculpture over the better part of the last five years, one donation at a time.

Until now, the discerning Babel fan in search of a public tribute to the scribe of the Jewish tough guy had to content himself with a nicely etched marble plaque hanging over the entrance to Babel’s former apartment building. This is the house in which Babel spent his productive adult years, occupying it (as the plaque tells us in Ukrainian) from 1909 to 1924. The ornate door and doorknob are the only visible architectural motifs that hint at the building’s former sumptuousness. A mere 15-minute walk from the city’s opera house and port, it was probably a nice place to work.

But for several years the structure has been enclosed by construction scaffolding, which in turn has been plastered over with advertising and graffiti. A massive billboard for a Paul & Shark clothing shop located next door obscures the plaque, and one has to step around a set of aluminum sided walls and lift up a heavy plastic construction tarp to get a peek at it.

Everyone involved in the new tribute proudly points out that the funds for the monument to Russia’s national poet, Alexander Pushkin, which stands with its back to city hall due to the city’s refusal to help finance it, took twice as long to collect. The Russian celebrity sculptor Georgy Frangulyan, best known for his statues of singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava in Moscow, Pushkin in Brussels, Peter the Great in Antwerp and, entertainingly enough (and to this Russian, grotesquely also), Boris Yeltsin in Yekaterinburg, reportedly took a hefty pay cut to work on the statue, out of his love for Babel’s stories.

Fittingly, this being Odessa, the story is not without hints of lurid machinations. The New York and Odessa branches of the club broke off relations after allegations that the former was keeping a portion of the donations for their own club’s coffers. The Odessan Diaspora in Los Angeles, however, was heartily thanked for its generosity.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Vladislav Davidzon, Odessa, Monuments, Isaac Babel, Georgy Frangulyan

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.