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An Odessa Odyssey: Vladimir Jabotinsky‘s The Five

  • Barry P Scherr


Vladimir (later known as Ze'ev) Jabotinsky is remembered today largely for his Zionism, but in his younger years he had gained recognition for his literary career, which he never entirely abandoned. His final novel, The Five (1936), written in Russian long after he had left his native country, depicts Jewish life in his native Odessa at the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel contains two main narrative lines. One involves a paean to the Odessa of Jabotinsky's youth—to its vibrancy, its physical charms, and even its peculiar dialect of Russian. The other chronicles the decline of a family, through the fates of its five children, as well as of an entire way of life, in a manner reminiscent of that employed by Sholem Aleichem in Tevye the Dairyman.The chief link between these outwardly disparate and even opposing lines is the semi-autobiographical narrator, a figure who has heretofore received less attention than deserved. In this analysis by Barry P. Scherr, the narrator appears not only to unify the fragmentary elements of the work but also, through his Zionism, to suggest a way out of the malaise that afflicted many of his contemporaries.



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1 An earlier version of this article was presented at the conference “Russia, Jews, and the Arts,” held at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in May 2008. Several participants, in particular Gabriella Safran, offered comments that have informed my revisions. I am also indebted to Sasha Senderovich and to the two anonymous reviewers for Slavic Review; many of their suggestions have been incorporated into the final redaction. A few reviews came out shortly after TheFivewas published, but the first long piece on the novel was lulii Margolin's “Raspad,” written to mark the twentieth anniversary of Jabotinsky's death. The article appeared in Novoe russkoe slovo,in the issues for 26, 27, and 28 July 1960, each time on p. 2. The whole piece was subsequently republished in lulii Margolin, Nesobrannoe(n.p., 1975), 406–24. The first major treatment in English can be found in Stone Nakhimovsky, Alice, Russian–Jeiuish Literature and Identity: Jabotinsky, Babel, Grossman, , Galich, , Roziner, , Markish, (Baltimore, 1992), 4569.

2 Born Vladimir Zhabotinskii in 1880, Jabotinsky (the common western spelling of his name) later used the Hebrew first name Ze'ev (“wolf“), although many of his works were published under the pseudonym Altalena (Italian for “swing“). His career in journalism began while he was still a teenager, and he soon turned to literature as well. He was initially attracted to Zionism around 1903; he advocated for Jewish self–defense (a reflection of this concern occurs at one point in The Five)and for the development of a Jewish national identity, which he saw as needing to take place outside Russia. An active Zionist within Russia before World War I, Jabotinsky settled in Palestine after the war. At the time of his death he headed three related groups: the New Zionist Organization, the Irgun Tzvai Leum (a military arm that the British regarded as a terrorist group), and the Betar youth movement, which encouraged young people to go to Palestine. While visiting a Betar camp in New York in 1940, he suffered a fatal heart attack.

3 Stanislawski, Michael, Zionism and the Fin de Siécte: Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism fromNordau tojabotinsky(Berkeley, 2001), 228.

4 Margolin, “Raspad,” 407 (originally: Novoerusskoeslovo,26July 1960, 2).

5 Lowenthal, David, “Fabricating Heritage,” History and Memory 10, no. 1 (Spring– Summer 1998): 16.

6 Wayne Shumaker, English Autobiography: Its Emergence, Materials, and Form(Berkeley, 1954), chap. 5. He calls these “modes” and also identifies an intermediate or “mixed“ mode.

7 Stanislawski, Michael, Autobiographical Jews: Essays in Jewish Self–Fashioning(Seattle, 2004), 3.

8 Moseley, Marcus, Being for Myself Alone: Origins of Jewish Autobiography(Stanford, 2006), 468.

9 Lowenthal, “Fabricating Heritage,” 18. For an older but still very valuable account of the manner in which the vagaries of memory and the attempt to impart cohesiveness to memory result in the “elusiveness of truth” in autobiography, see Pascal, Roy, Design and Truth in Autobiography(Cambridge, Mass., 1960), chap. 5.

10 Note that Jabotinsky also makes use of an autobiographical figure in his play Chuzhbina(Alien Land, 1908), which touches on a number of the themes that reappear in The Five.Gonta, arguably the main figure, is a former revolutionary who has turned instead to Jewish nadonalism, while the southern port city where the drama is set resembles Odessa. For an analysis of the play, see Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin de Siécle,197–202. Owing to censorship, the work was not published until 1922 in Berlin: Schechtman, Joseph B, Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story. The Early Years(New York, 1956), 139.

11 Boym, Svetlana, The Future of Nostalgia(New York, 2001), xv.

12 Ibid., 30–31.

13 The original passage is in Vladimir (Ze'ev) Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia v deviati tomalth (Minsk, 2007), 1:446. The English is from Jabotinsky, Vladimir, The Five: A Novel of Jeioish Life in Turn–of–the–Century Odessa,trans. Katz, Michael R (Ithaca, 2005), 197. For subsequent references I cite both these editions; in a handful of cases I have slighdy amended the translations of quoted passages.

14 See Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:311 and 338; Jabotinsky, TheFive,23 and 58. The Fanconi was the more famous of the two facing cafés and is mentioned in the works of several writers, including Sholem Aleichem and Isaak Babel'. An American article claimed that women preferred Fanconi, while men liked Robinat, redolent of tobacco and vodka: Sydney Adamson, “Odessa—The Portal of an Empire,” Harper's Monthly Magazine,no. 125 (November 1912): 906. For a detailed description of the Robinat and especially of the somewhat disreputable “Robinisti” who made it their haunt, see Roshanna P. Sylvester, Tales of Old Odessa: Crime and Civility in a City of Thieves(DeKalb, 2005), 113–18.

15 Broude, Inna, Ot Khodasevicha do Nabokova: Noslal'gicheskaia tema vpoezii pervoi russkoi emigratsii(Tenafly, N.J., 1990), 30 , notes that the first impulse of émigré poets was to recreate every feature of the past so as to fix it in memory.

16 Osorgin, Mikhail, review of Piatero,in Sovremennye zapiski,1936, no. 61: 474.

17 Nedava, Iosef, “Vladimir (Zeev) Zhabotinskii,” in Zhabotinskii, Vladimir, Povest' moikh dnei([Tel Aviv], 1985), xxi.

18 Schechtman, , Rebel and Statesman,6870.

19 Osorgin, review of Piatero, Alb.

20 Sylvester, Tales of Old Odessa,offers a detailed picture of this less glamorous Odessa on the eve of World War I. For a brief overview of the city's contrasting images during this era, see Barry P. Scherr, “Synagogues, Synchrony and the Sea: Babel“s Odessa,” in Peter Rollberg, ed., And Meaning for a Life Entire: Festschrift for Moser, Charles A on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday(Columbus Ohio, 1998), 337–39. In addition to Sylvester's volume, major book–length studies of Odessa include Patricia Herlihy, Odessa: A History, 1794–1914 (Cambridge, Mass., 1986); Steven J. Zipperstein, The fetus of Odessa: A Cultural History, 1794–1881(Stanford, 1985); Polishchuk, Mikhail I, Evrei Odessy i Novorossii: Sotsial'nopoliticheskaia istoriia evreev Odessy i drugikh gorodov Novorossii 1881–1904(Jerusalem, 2002); Robert Weinberg, chapand, The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa: Blood on the Steps(Bloomington, 1993).

21 Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:431; Jabotinsky, TheFive,177. Around the beginning of the century, Nikolaev, itself a significant southern river port city in what was then the Russian empire, contained about 120,000 inhabitants to Odessa's 620,000; Ochakov, a minor port on the Black Sea, had fewer than 10,000. While the notion that Odessa might look up to Ochakov was no doubt an exaggeration, Nikolaev, if significantly smaller, presented a real threat, as pointed out by a contemporary observer: “Odessa has not prospered so much in the last decade as formerly. The Imperial patronage has been transferred to Nicolaiev. Furthermore, Odessa is looked upon as one of the hotbeds of anarchy by the present government.” Nevin O. Winter, The Russian Empire of To–day and Yesterday; the Country and Its Peoples, together with a Brief Review of Its History, Past and Present, and a Survey of Its Social, Political, and Economic Conditions(Boston, 1913), 137. Sylvester also makes the point that the authorities had come to favor other southern cities over Odessa: Sylvester, Tales of Old Odessa,21.

22 Weinberg, , Revolution of 1905 in Odessa,1719.

23 Polishchuk, Evrei Odessy i Novorossii,225–31, esp. 228–29.

24 Ibid., 82.

25 Katz, Shmuel: Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky,2 vols. (New York, 1996), 1:22.

26 This was an actual circle that Jabotinsky frequented at the beginning of the twentieth century, and where he gave a talk on individualism and collectivism that infuriated his left–leaning audience. See Katz, Lone Wolf,1:29–32; also described in Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman,70–73.

27 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:304; Jabotinsky, , The Five,15.

28 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:299; Jabotinsky, , TheFive,8. The usage of denhatprobably derives from the Yiddish haltn imfun(to consider him as). I am indebted to Sasha Senderovich for this observation.

29 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:608.

30 Shishov, V. F and Stetsiuchenko, A. A, “Odessizmy v rasskazakh I. E. Babelia,“ in Karpenko, Iurii A, ed., Iazyk i stil’ proizvedenii I. E. Babelia, Iu. K. Oleshi, I. A. Il'fa iE. P. Petrova: Sbornik nauchnykh trudov(Kiev, 1991), 30.

31 For a good survey of the salient features, see Borisovna Mechkovskaia, Nina, “Russkii iazyk v Odesse: Vchera, segodnia, zavtra,” Russian Linguistics 30, no. 2 (2006): 263–81, which is a review of Stepanov, E. M, Rosiis'ke movlennia Odesy(Odessa, 2004).

32 See Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:300, 302, 311, 373, 380, and 381.

33 Ibid., l:361–62;Jabotinsky, The Five, 87–88.

34 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,l:401; Jabotinsky, , TheFive,139–40.

35 Hetényi, Zsuzsa, In a Maelstrom: The History of Russian–Jewish Prose (1860–1940) (Budapest, 2008), 215.

36 Alice Stone Nakhimovsky has similarly noted that Abram Moiseevich and his brother Boris resemble figures in Babel“s stories. Nakhimovsky, Russian Jewish Literature and Identity,67.

37 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:373; Jabotinsky, , TheFive,102.

38 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:399400; Jabotinsky, TheFive,138.

39 Hillel Halkin, “Sacrifices,” New Republic,19 December 2005, 35. The classic example is Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks,where Vfc>/a//appears in the subtitle, but the pattern of decline from generation to generation appears as well in many Russian works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Ivan Bunin's Sukhodoland Maksim Gor'kii's The Artamonov Business.

40 Brian Horowitz notes the surprising focus on assimilationist ideas instead of Zionism: Horowitz, “Privetstvie assimiliatsii, ili sionizm kak protivorechie,” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie,2005, no. 3 (73): 109.

41 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:444–45;Jabotinsky, TheFive,194.

42 Shmuel Katz, a disciple of Jabotinsky, offers extensive if somewhat partisan commentary on the split with Weizmann in his Lone Wolf; seeespecially 1:840–58 and 2:1134– 55 (the pagination of the two volumes is consecutive). Colin Shindler, The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right(London, 2006), 40–42 and 85–92, provides a more nuanced approach.

43 Shindler, Triumph of Military Zionism,15–16, 47–48. Much of the book is devoted to Jabotinsky's role in the Zionist movement.

44 On the political divides within Revisionism that arose during the 1930s, see Yaakov Shavit, Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement, 1925–1948(London, 1988), 58–106; and Shindler, Triumph of Military Zionism,154–62, as well as chaps. 11–12.

45 Even the tides of several books that discuss Jabotinsky's political descendants make this association clear: Brenner, Lenni, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir(London, 1984); Kaplan, Eran, The Jewish Radical Right: Revisionist Zionism and Its Ideological Legacy(Madison, 2005); and Shindler, , Triumph of Military Zionism.

46 Stanislawski, Zionism and theFin de Siécle,156–60.

47 On Jabotinsky's secular orientation, see Shindler, The Triumph of Military Zionism, 61–65; Stanislawski, Zionism and theFin de Siécle,121–24; and Brenner, Iron Wall,2–5.

48 Shavit, , Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement,23, 197–98. Jabotinsky saw die sparsely populated territory east of the Jordan River as providing space for future Jewish immigration.

49 Shindler, Triumph ojMilitary Zionism,11–14; Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin de Siecle,209–21, esp. 209 and 216. Jabotinsky, while writing for Odessa newspapers, studied law at the University of Rome from 1898 until 1901, and from then on harbored a love for the Italian language and culture; his regard for the country may partially explain his being drawn to Benito Mussolini. This was not the only odd bent resulting from Jabotinsky's attraction to nationalism. Some years earlier he had famously (and at die time almost disastrously for his reputation) proposed ajewish alliance with the Ukrainian nationalist Simon Petliura, whose forces had been responsible for killing thousands of Jews during the civil war that followed the Bolsheviks’ ascension to power. Brenner, Iron Wall,66–69; Shindler, Triumph of Military Zionism,43–46.

50 On Jabotinsky's plays, see Michael Stanislawski, ‘Jabodnsky as Playwright: New Texts, New Subtexts,” in Mendelsohn, Ezra, ed., Literary Strategies..Jewish Texts and Contexts (Oxford, 1996), 4054. Much of this material appears in somewhat altered form in Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin de Siécle.

51 Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman,170–71.

52 Ibid., 108.

53 The earlier book was translated into English as both Judge and Fool(New York, 1930) and Samson the Nazarite(London, 1930).

54 See the commentary by Vladimir Khazan in Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:605.

55 For instance, the most prominent of the Mil'grom relatives, Abram Moiseevich, would seem to be based at least in part on Jabotinsky's maternal uncle, Abram Meirovich Zak, a merchant whom he described in his autobiography as wise and knowledgeable. See Zhabotinskii, Vladimir, O zheleznoi stene: Rechi, stat'i, vospominaniia(Minsk, 2004), 468. Elena Tolstaia has identified the “major literary figure from the capital” (Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:378–79; Jabotinsky, The Five,108–10) who appears at one point as Akim Volynskii. See Tolstaia, Elena, Mirposlekontsa: Raboty o russkoi literature XX veka(Moscow, 2002), 6568. For more on the references to Volynskii in this passage, see Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:619–20. The middle Mil'grom brother, Serezha, who bears certain resemblances to the youthful Jabotinsky, as noted below in the text, may also owe something to Aleksandr (Sasha) Eizengardt; like Serezha, Sasha composed short verses (which Jabotinsky at one point published), had frequent run–ins with authority, and seemed to recognize few if any moral limits. See the memoir by Eizengardt's sister, Liudmila, which describes her growing up as part of an assimilated Jewish family in Odessa: Liudmila Miklashevskaia and Nina Katerli, Chemu svideteli my byli: Zhenskie sud'by, XXvek(St. Petersburg, 2007); on Sasha, who was eventually shot by the Whites, see especially 71–73.

56 Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:602–3.

57 Halkin, “Sacrifices,” 36, has referred to parallels between the works, though he confines his remarks to similarities among characters rather than in structure. A more extensive comparison of the characters is to be found in Michael Katz, ‘“Go Argue with Today's Children': The Jewish Family in Sholem Aleichem and Vladimir Jabotinsky,” .EuropeanJudaism43, no. 1 (May 2010): 63–77.

58 Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman,37–38.

59 Halkin, Hillel, “Introduction,” in Aleichem, Sholem, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories(New York, 1987), xviii. Yuri Slezkine has also noted the disappearing daughters in The Jewish Century(Princeton, 2004), 204, and settles on the number five. He makes an implicit comparison in this regard with Jabotinsky's novel, when he remarks about the Mil'groms that the “family has the requisite five children” (215).

60 Slezkine focuses specifically on these two in discussing the respective novels. The fourth and by far the longest chapter in his book is called “Hodl's Choice: The Jews and Three Promised Lands,” in which he sees Hodl as possibly ending up as an “Old Bolshevik.“ Slezkine, TlieJewish Century,205.

61 As Butwin, Joseph and Butwin, Frances note in Sholom Aleichem(Boston, 1977), chap. 4, his technique here and in other works recalls that of skaznarration, a term popularized by the Russian formalists to describe the manner in which some authors create the illusion of spontaneous oral speech.

62 Michael R. Katz, “Odessa's Jews: The End of Assimilation,” Southwest Review87, nos. 2–3 (2002): 279; Margolin, “Raspad,” 415 (originally: Novoe russkoe slovo,27 July 1960,2).

63 Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,l:322–23;Jabotinsky, TheFive,39.

64 Lika, like other of the Mil'grom children, has apparent prototypes in Jabotinsky's 1908 play Alien Land:Comrade Rashel’ for Lika, the thief Iashka for SereEha, and the somewhat dissolute Ninka for Marusia. As Mikhail Vaiskopf suggests in a foreword to the play, it is as though in The Five]abotinskyhas taken these early figures and elevated them in terms of both their psychology and their literary quality. Zhabotinskii, Vladimir, Chuzhbina: P'esa, komediia vpiati deistviiakh(Jerusalem, 2000), 14.

65 See Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,l:370–71;Jabotinsky, The Five,98–99. On Manasevich– Manuilov's Italian intrigues, of which the narrator appears to provide a fair summary, see Betskii, K and Pavlov, P, Russkii Rokambol’ (prikliucheniia I. F. Manasevicha–Manuilova) (Leningrad, 1925), 2136. Later in the novel the narrator notes that Manasevich–Manuilov was a convert (vykrest):Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,1:417; Jabotinsky, TheFive,160. Indeed, Manasevich–Manuilov (1869–1918), born Jewish, became a Lutheran. Those who came to know him well eventually judged him harshly. Pavel Miliukov, for instance, referred to him as a “confidence man of the first order” in his Vospominaniia,2 vols. (Moscow, 1990), 2:191. Eventually becoming an associate of Rasputin, Manasevich–Manuilov was shot after the Bolshevik revolution while attempting to cross the border into Finland. For a concise summary of his exploits and his association with Rasputin, see Fuhrmann, Joseph T, Rasputin: A Life(New York, 1990), 125–26.

66 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:321; Jabotinsky, TheFive,37.

67 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:413 and 432; Jabotinsky, TheFive,154 and 179.

68 Margolin, “Raspad,” 416 (originally: Novoe russkoe slovo,27 July 1960, 2).

69 Nakhimovsky, Russian Jexuish Literature and Identity,66.

70 Zhabotinskii, Sochineniia,l:445;Jabotinsky, TheFive,194.

71 Katz, “Odessa's Jews,” 279.

72 Odessa of the time had a reputation for amoral behavior. See Winter, The Russian Empire of To–day and Yesterday,135–36: “Life in Odessa is anything but slow, and […] is not noted for its morality. The young Russians there seem to be given to all sorts of apgambling and dissipation. At night the streets are brilliandy lighted, and are crowded witli promenaders of both sexes. Young girls just entering their ‘teens are conspicuous by their boldness of action.“

73 Horowitz, “Privetstvie assimiliatsii,” 114.

74 This similarity has been noted by Shmuel Katz and may account for the spirited quality of Serezha's early depictions in the novel. See Katz, Lone Wolf,2:1567. Note that Aleksandr Eizengardt may have also inspired aspects of Serezha's presentation.

75 Kornei Chukovskii, who in his younger years knew Jabotinsky well, quotes several of these short verses in his letters to Rakhel’ Margolina; see Margolina–Ratner, Ktitsa and Margolina–Shragai, Tsipora, eds., Rakhel’ Pavlovna Margolina i eeperepiska s Korneem Ivanovichem Chukovskim(Jerusalem, 1978), 13, 19, 26.

76 Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman,31–35.

77 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:405; Jabotinsky, The Five,145.

78 Interestingly, the narrator also appears to be vaguely attracted to her mother, who is described as a charming, lively woman and much younger than the father, but his moral sense keeps him from even beginning on the “gradual” path that leads Serezha to his involvement with Niura and Niuta. Mikhail Vaiskopf has commented on the prevalence of forbidden love elsewhere in Jabotinsky's prose as well as in his poetry: ‘“Kozlinaia pesn' Zeeva Zhabotinskogo,” Solnechnoe spletenie,no. 12–13 (2000) and available online at www (last accessed 3 December 2010).

79 Nakhimovsky, Russian Jewish Literature and Identity,65.

80 Note, diough, that her life moves in opposition to Serezha's, going from the less restrained to the more dutiful. Hetenyi, In a Maelstrom,217.

81 Halkin, “Sacrifices,” 36.

82 Katz, “Odessa's Jews,” 278; Nakhimovsky, Russian Jewish Literature and Identity, 65; Margolin, “Raspad,” 419 (originally: Novoe russkoe slovo,28 July 1960, 2). Kaplan, The Jewish Radical Right,131–32, largely confines his discussion of the novel to this one character.

83 Joseph B. Schechtman, Fighter and Prophet: The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story. The Last Years(New York, 1961), 534; Osorgin, review of Piatero,475, where he says that Jabotinsky presents himself (i.e., the narrator), as only a passerby; and Stanislawski, who, while making some very fine comments about the narrator's role, nonetheless calls him “nearly invisible, irrelevant to the story he tells,” Stanislawski, Zionism and the Fin deSiecle,229.

84 Zhabotinskii, , Sochineniia,1:441;Jabotinsky, TheFive,189–90.

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