B'nai B'rith Cuba Mission: Honoring Life, Respecting the Dead
GUANABACOA DE CUBA—Two Jewish cemeteries are located in this town located about 30 minutes outside Havana. One is a Sephardic cemetery. The other is the Centro Macabeo Cemetery. The latter was visited by the 2012 B’nai B’rith mission.
It was established in 1906 by the United Hebrew Congregation of Cuba (UHC). It has about 1,000 graves with many tombstones damaged and even dislocated from their frames. The names in the cemetery are German. The Centro Macabeo is the Spanish part of the UHC. The UHC disappeared after the revolution in 1959.
The B’nai B’rith mission participants were touched in different ways from this experience, placing stones on the marble-covered plots, as is the tradition, at the gravesites. A few well-tanned cemetery caretakers provided kippot for the male visitors and gave an overview of the cemetery. They also made available a ledger-looking log that recorded names and locations of the deceased.
Every grave, of course, appears to have a story to share, and there are more than 1,000 graves here. One grave shows the image of a soldier. Another memorial celebrates the participation as proud Communists. Yet another indicates the headstone of a child who died after two days of life. Another was four months old. A group from Chicago renovated a long row of small graves, all children. They are small and have a fresh coat of white paint with black Hebrew lettering.
A Tzedakah box near the entrance is most inviting to passing visitors. One plot indicates the site of someone’s future resting place.
Several B’nai B’rith mission participants looked for known relatives or simply their own German surnames. Bob Kaufman of the Chicago area and Chuck Kaufman of Austin, Texas, not related beyond their relationship to B’nai B’rith International, are curious whether any Kaufmans—it’s German—are buried here. Neither have roots in Cuba.
“Hay nombre Kaufman in el libro?” Chuck asks. The caretaker turns back and forth in the large ledger and, lo and behold, he finds two, Abraham and Faiga Kaufman, who died in the 1950s before the revolution. The B’nai B’rith Kaufmans follow the caretaker to a corner of the cemetery that’s shaded. Unlike some of the graves, the physical grave itself is in good shape. The large black granite headstone surrounded by finely-grained marble covers the width of both Abraham’s and Faiga’s graves. It is large. Perhaps this was a prominent couple. It bears metal, block letters “ U F M A N.”
“Puede encontrar las letras para fijar el nombre?”
Chuck and Bob learn how much the repair will cost. It’s inexpensive. Done. Other digits are missing and one wonders how much more the repair will cost. “Nada, senor. El trabajo encluye en el precio; es por todo.”
An additional contribution buys a promise that everything will be repaired and overgrown grass will be cut.
“We make look nice.”
- 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