A B’nai B’rith Mission First: A Visit to Guantanamo de Cuba
GUANTANAMO DE CUBA—B’nai B’rith made its first trip to the eastern-most Jewish community in this country. Beyond that milestone, this proud Sephardic synagogue recently identified two Jews living 70 miles away, and young Jennifer is about to celebrate her bat mitzvah, the first local to have a bat mitzvah outside Havana.
Jennifer and many Jews in this community are part of the Mizrahi clan. Rodolfo Mizrahi is the head of the community and lives in space below the second floor synagogue. The Mizrahis came to Guantanamo, like the Jews of nearby Santiago, several generations ago from Turkey.
The B’nai B’rith mission participants pull up to awaiting congregants and immediately see the Turkish influences in the synagogue’s exterior design. The deep aquamarine walls contrast the structures on the rest of the street. Spiraling columns and other features decorate the synagogue edifice. The space, long and deep, is divided into two large spaces. One half serves as a sanctuary and indoor uses; the other half is used for outdoor celebrations.
The outdoor space, already outfitted for a sukkah, could use a canvas covering to shield the space from year-round searing heat, particularly during the summer. Such an awning would be installed to retract. Twenty-five needed outdoor chairs would facilitate various outdoor holiday observances and celebrations.
A tall, young man leads Shabbat services. His familiar renditions sound as if Bob Dylan is singing them. Really. Asked what he does in Guantanamo, the young man says he plays volleyball. He is about 6-3 and is built like a power forward.
The synagogue knows the work and contributions of B’nai B’rith. In a PowerPoint following services, Rodolfo is shown in one of the clips wearing a B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge T-shirt. And on one wall, the synagogue proudly displays a framed 2009 resolution signed by then-B’nai B’rith International President Moishe Smith.
This community counts more than 80 Jews as congregants, though quite a few people live miles away and some live even farther, such as the two newly-identified Jews living 70 miles away. Rodolfo would love to have Jewish learning tools in Spanish. The community generously received a Torah from a past B’nai B’rith mission participant, Mark Fleischer, but the synagogue has no one to read it. On this Shabbat, however, the Torah is not only taken out of the ark, but Rodolfo receives an aliyah. Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn on the mission reads the corresponding parsha.
The B’nai B’rith mission and individuals leave behind contributions following a filling lunch and take home a wish list of gift ideas. After all, it’s Chanukah.
- by B'nai B'rith International Senior Vice President Charles Kaufman
Cuban Jewish Relief Blog
Reports on the B'nai B'rith International Cuba Jewish Relief project.
March 19-26, 2015
For more information on ways to get involved in the Cuban Jewish Relief Project or for mission registration, please contact:
B'nai B'rith Cuban
Jewish Relief Project
B'nai B'rith International
1120 20th St NW
Suite 300 N
Washington, DC 20036