I’m not a fan of Cuba and that’s for a lot of reasons. The government is repressive and it’s one of the grimmest social, economic and political places on the earth, as grim as the Soviet Union used to be. Back in 1959, when Castro took over, one of the things they did was ban the practice of religion…all religion. Only lately have they relented and the people of this island can worship again. That includes the Jews who remain in Cuba, mostly in Havana.
Twenty-eight of us just came back from visiting the Jewish community in Havana. The ocean views and the beaches are amazing. Equally amazing are the cars, which exist in a time warp - pre 1959. I wouldn’t say no to owning one of those vintage 1955 Olds or Chevys, like the ones we saw on the streets in Havana. Check out the Federation Facebook page and don't forget to "Like Us".
I’d like to forget the rice and beans – what passes for protein in Cuba – which I ate during the three days we were there. What I won’t forget is the good feelings we had from spending time with the 900 people of Havana’s Jewish community (in all of Cuba there are only 1,500 Jews). They are passionate about their Judaism. As easy as it is to be Jewish in the United States, that’s how hard it is to be Jewish in Cuba. Not because there’s anti-Semitism – there isn’t – but because there’s little to support Jewish life. There’s no kosher butcher, there’s no mohel, no rabbi and there’s no real Hebrew school. Until recently, there was no awareness of what it meant to be Jewish. That’s where the Federation and JDC stepped in.
The JDC – the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a major beneficiary agency of our Federation – brought Judaism back to Cuba’s Jewish community. The JDC, whose mission is to rescue, relieve, renew, and sustain Jewish life, sent JDC emissaries from Argentina to Cuba to teach young people how to conduct synagogue services, and they’re learning. It’s amazing to see teenagers up on the bima leading services for their parents, their grandparents and the entire community.
For most Americans, Cuba is as far away as Mars. While I was suffering through my rice and beans in Havana, I realized as far away as it seems, we’re all as close to Cuba’s Jews as Federation’s Annual Campaign. That’s because donations to the Annual Campaign run throughthe JDC to Cuba’s Jews. Your donation to Federation supports the renewal of Jewish life in Cuba. Didn’t know that, did you? Give yourself a pat on the back, because now you do.Shabbat Shalom,
Jason M. Shames
Chief Executive Officer