Cuba’s community blossoms as it evolves
HAVANA DE CUBA—Maritza Corrales is regularly identified as an expert on the history of Jews in Cuba, mostly on the strength of her 2005 book “The Chosen Island: Jews in Cuba” (Salsedo Press, Chicago). She often accompanies Jewish missions to the nation’s largest cemetery near Havana. She also makes presentations about her research niche to visiting Jewish groups. She is available to other authors who examine Jewish history. It’s her academic interest and part of her livelihood.
She cites archives of Madrid that Conversos Jews were among mariners from Spain who first stepped on Cuban soil. The Spanish of the early 16th Century were seeking gold and when they found none they left the island. Jews escaping the inquisition stayed and by the time the British came to Cuba in 1898, a log reported more than 500 Spanish Jews in Cuba.
Corrales rattles off figures relating to the Jewish community today, data that is useful to the Patronato, which serves as the community center of Havana:
> There are 10 identified Jewish communities in Cuba;
> The Jewish population, often quoted as 1,500, is 1,237 (400 families), with 846 in Havana;
> 56 percent are women;
> 26 percent are older than 60;
> Most of the population are Sephardic, reflecting the departure of Ashkenazic Jews when Castro came to power. In 1959, at the time of the revolution, Cuba’s Jewish population was about 15,000.
Corrales acknowledges that Cuba is a “totally unreligious” nation and there are some crypto-Jews, people who practice Jewish customs without knowing their origin. Some are learning about such rituals and are identifying as Jews. While some Jews make aliyah, a process that actually takes a handful of years to accomplish, the community should remain in tact, she says. Other scholars acknowledge that the Jews of Cuba are a fascinating mix of religionists and adherents to the current political structure in Cuba.
“If Jews have survived storms, the Inquisition and Hitler, they will survive here,” Corrales said.
The Patronato is composed of the Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba and Templo Beth Shalom, the center and now a conservative synagogue. It was formerly Orthodox, in addition to a voluminous synagogue, the Patronato offers indoor recreational facilities, an extensive a Jewish library as exists in Cuba and a pharmacy.
Adela Dworin is the president of the Patronato. She welcomes groups virtually every week and isn’t afraid to ask for contributions that supplement those from the Joint Distribution Committee. “We need money. That’s the most important thing,” she tells visitors, “but we need more Jews.”
Dworin acknowledges the growth of the Sunday school, including a breakfast program, daily services for seniors, increases to more than 70 people for Friday night services and well attended festivities for Chanukah and Purim events. It’s proud that 45 junior athletes are planning to participate in the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel. .
The Patronato also helps the elderly find housing with other Jewish families. It is flowering today in contrast to the 1980s, when the Patronato could barely attract a minyan and many Jews in Cuba practiced their faith privately in their homes.
Dworin has been president of the Jewish community for a long time and is proud of its achievements.
- 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:
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