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B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief Project


​Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin On More Than 20 Years Of The Cuban Jewish Relief Project

As B’nai B’rith marks our 173 anniversary and the 21st anniversary of our aid to Cuban Jewry, we continue our tradition of multifaceted cooperation with the Cuban Jewish community

Today, we’re launching our 2016 campaign for Cuban Jewish Relief. 

Our goal is to maintain support of the Cuban Jewish community while expanding our reach to support unique projects designed to build bridges between the Cuban Jewish community, the Diaspora and the State of Israel. 

Our Ties With Cuba Date Back To 1943…

B’nai B’rith International has a very large hand print in supporting the Cuban Jewish community with longstanding ties to the island. The B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge has operated in Havana, Cuba since 1943. As a local association of B’nai B’rith members, the Maimonides Lodge has served as headquarters for a number of religious and cultural projects and programs across Cuba.

Since 1995, B’nai B’rith has also operated legal missions to Cuba under the auspices of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project. Through our partnership with the Maimonides lodge we have initiated the Tzedakah Project, providing direct gifts in small amounts to assist 120 elderly Cuban Jews across the island. Our mission participants have also carried down thousands of pounds of religious material contributions to enhance the ability of the Jewish population in Cuba to practice their religion, as well as medicines and other necessities, while building personal friendships to last a lifetime. Our legacy of humanitarian support includes a three-fold approach.

Our Three-Fold Humanitarian Approach

  • Preservation – Providing material aid and Judaica to assist meeting the challenges of daily life for the Cuban Jewish population.
  • Sustainability – ​Connecting Cuban Jews to the greater Diaspora to strengthen global partnerships and empower future generations.
  • Revitalization – Partnering with communities to support local initiatives.

B’nai B’rith Has Spearheaded The Revival of Jewish Culture

When B’nai B’rith began its Cuban Jewish Relief Project on the island in the early 1990’s the Jewish community was just emerging from decades of struggle to preserve its traditions and culture. With the easing of restriction on religious practice, B’nai B’rith was one of the first humanitarian organizations on the ground to spearhead the bright revival of Jewish life in Cuba.

Since 1995, B’nai B’rith has been providing humanitarian relief and hands-on support to the Cuban Jewish community, with an emphasis on delivering material aid, Judaica and other necessities while empowering community revitalization efforts. Our mission participants share in joint religious activities and discussion groups about religious practices and life on the island, all the while enjoying Cuba’s vibrant Caribbean culture.

Today, B’nai B’rith continues our tradition of cooperation with the Cuban Jewish community, contributing vital assistance to ensure that the needs of our brothers and sisters in Cuba are met.


Cuban Jewish Relief Project Participants Reflect On Their Experiences

Hear it From Someone Who’s Been There: Matt Caplan

B’nai B’rith International supporter and AEPi member Matt Caplan spent a week in during the spring of 2016 assisting and learning about the Cuban Jewish community as a part of the B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief Project. 

Caplan participated in an on-camera debrief during the trip home reflecting on his experiences and also penned a blog on how the Cuban Jewish Relief Project helped him get in touch with his Jewish identity. 

Blog – Reflections On My Jewish Identity As Seen Through B’nai B’rith’s Cuban Jewish Relief Project  

B’nai B’rith’s Cuban Jewish Relief Project is doing truly transformational work, not only in maintaining a storied tradition and community, but also in engaging a future generation of Jewishness.



People Making Community in Havana

The local community was rebuilt at the beginning of the nineteens, when many of its current members rediscovered their Jewish roots. Since then some organizations, the B’nai B’rith International among them, have been supporting diverse artistic and cultural projects, Tzedaka initiatives, and celebrations of festivities and Jewish traditions both in Havana, where the majority of Jews are located, and in Cuba’s provinces.

Jews of Cuba

Keep an eye out for our new series Jews of Cuba, highlighting members of the Cuban Jewish community and their diverse stories. We feature individuals who self-identify as Jewish, and the quotes are excerpts from longer conversations with members from the Patronato Youth Group.

By interviewing senior members of the Jewish community, there are opportunity to build bridges within the community and across generations. Scroll down to read their stories.

Ernesto Azicri Barouch (68)

​Both of Ernesto Azicri Barouch’s his parents arrived in Cuba from Turkey. Once in Cuba, he and his father first attended the Adath Israel community and moved on to the Chevet Achim. In recent years, Ernesto was a regular at the Saturday morning services at the Hebrew Sephardi Center of Cuba. He never misses a Shacharit prayer, and when he was younger, he used to take the Torah from the Aron Kodesh.

​He says it was important for him “to be close to God almighty.” Because of his health problems he can’t attend services nowadays. Ernesto suffers from heart and kidney issues and relies on the care of a neighbor. 

​Ernesto was positive when we visited and told us “My fridge is 72 years old and is still functioning.”

Shirley Maya Fernández (65) and
Rebeca Fernández (56)

Shirley Maya Fernandez showed us the marks of her breast cancer surgery. She is now recovering from the third medical intervention. She and her 56 years old sister, Rebeca Fernandez, are currently staying at a friend’s house until she is feeling better. Despite all of this, Shirley has a big smile on her face when we visited. She is seated, joyfully remembering the times when she was part of the chorus at the Hebrew Youth of Cuba.

“We used to go to the different communities by foot through Havana Vieja to sing for Rosh Hashana, for all the festivities and events. We were spending money from our own pockets to have little parties, because the congregations didn’t have enough money.

“This was in the seventies, those times when the community had reduced to the minimum and no one could know for sure about its continuity … We are Jews. It was touching our hearts. We wanted [the tradition] to keep going.

“The Tzedaka project has been a tremendous help during the past 21 years, since my mother died and I had to take care of my sister, who has a mental health illness. They have been bringing us medicines and have been worried that we won’t be lacking a meal. They have been like family to us.”

B’nai B’rith Magazine: B’nai B’rith’s Missions To Cuba—And In Cuba ​

In the wake of President Obama’s surprise announcement that the United States would resume diplomatic relations after five decades, B’nai B’rith’s Cuban roots were explored in an article for the spring 2015 edition of B’nai B’rith Magazine. Also discussed in the article was also the 20 year anniversary of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project, which was observed throughout 2015. Check out an excerpt from the story below and click to read it in full. 

The lodge was started by Milton Savitch, a member of B’nai B’rith Switzerland, and 31 members of the Cuban community. Founded immediately after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis, the Cuban lodge was intended to be a spiritual center and an organization that helped Jews escape from persecution and death in Europe.

But the lodge also shared many of the classic B’nai B’rith goals.

They were “to link the purest principles of charity, honor and patriotism, to support the arts and sciences, to alleviate the needs of the poor, to visit and tend to the sick, to protect and assist widows and orphans,” said B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge’s current president, Samuel Zagovlov.
Today, the lodge has 100 members and continues its charitable work. In 2002, it started the Tzedakah Project in conjunction with the Cuban Jewish Relief Committee. The project provides financial assistance to 120 elderly Cuban Jews in need.

Coverage On The Cuban Jewish Diaspora From The Jerusalem Post Magazine

Cuban Jewish Relief Project Alumnus Jill Wagner wrote a first-hand account of her experience on the mission for the October edition The Jerusalem Post Magazine.

From afar these fresh faced teenagers look like they could be cast on a billboard – advertising the good life. They are diverse: dark, tanned skin topped with shiny brown hair; Blonde tresses framing sparkling blue eyes; these teens are slender and stylish. They’re waist-deep in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean, splashing and teasing each other, laughing and gossiping. In so many ways they are just like typical teens. Except, they are not.

These dozen or so teens make up a large portion of Havana’s young Jewish community. If they decide to leave Cuba – to start a new life with more opportunity in Israel, the United States or Panama – they’ll take what’s left of Cuba’s once-thriving Jewish community with them.