15 July 2009

Cuba: Today's Jewish community

A contingent of Floridians recently visited Cuba's Jewish community in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara.

The Miami Herald covered the story here. There's a photo of the Guanabacoa Jewish cemetery.

When Franklin Silbey and other members of Temple Israel in West Palm Beach recently visited Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in Cuba, they noticed two details right away.

''No security, and no graffiti,'' Silbey said. ``Everywhere else in the world you go, guards are outside the synagogues. Automatic weapons, in some cases metal detectors, and you get graffiti in the cemeteries. In Cuba, you don't see any of that.''

That might be explained by tight state security, but the Jewish visitors said they also felt no prejudice on the part of Cubans during their week on the island in June. Silbey said they may have found one of the few countries in the world devoid of anti-Semitism.

''Of course, there are only something like 1,500 or 1,600 Jews out of 11 million people,'' Silbey said. ``A very, very small percentage of the population, but still it was unusual.''
The delegation of 27 brought medicine, clothing, school supplies to the tiny remaining community - the remnants of what was a thriving 20,000 prior to Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959. Some 90% of the island's Jews left, most to Florida.

The story details the experiences of the group's members. Some commented on a rich collection of Spanish and Hebrew books at a Havana synagogue library.

There are a half-dozen congregations on the island. Half the community lives in Havana where three congregations are open (Orthodox and two Reform, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardic). None have a rabbi or cantor, although US and South American clergy do visit. Sometimes group ceremonies, such as a bnai mitzvah for 15 young people from all over Cuba, are conducted by the visiting clergy.

Elsewhere, a family's apartment serves as a synagogue for two dozen Jews in the south central city of Cienfuegos and, in central Santa Clara, there are another two dozen (some of them from the rural areas) who attend services.

In Santa Clara's Jewish cemetery there is a Holocaust memorial, with stones brought from the Warsaw Ghetto.

One problem is that the Santa Clara community has only two children, and they are concerned about the future.

Read the complete article at the link above, and search Tracing the Tribe for other articles on Cuba.

No comments:

Post a Comment