Jews in Cuba–Leor

Many Jewish immigrants came to Cuba during the 1920’s. Cuba was the first country that allowed Jews who were escaping from the Nazi persecution that occurred beginning in 1933 in Europe to enter their country, unlike the United States who refused to allow them to enter. Many of the young single men came to Cuba from Europe to have a better life and to become more successful, or to wait until they would be able to immigrate to the United States. The single men usually tended to intermarry with the Catholic Cubans, and those who were already married sent money to their families back in Europe. At that point in time a central Jewish committee was formed to represent all of the Jewish groups.

After World War II there were a lot of immigrants who came from Europe, and a community of about fifteen thousand Jews came about to live in Havana. The largest Jewish community is found in Havana. About 75 percent of these Jews were Ashkenazi. Havana had five synagogues, one of which was Sephardic. From 1953-1959, Castro led a revolution, for economic shift from capitalism to communism. Even though his revolution was not directed against the Jews, it destroyed the stable economy of the Cuban Jews. In 1959, as a result of Castro’s implementation of a communist government, most of these Jews fled from the country and moved to the United States, mainly to Florida, New York, and New Jersey. A majority of the Jews who stayed in Cuba were either strong believers in communism who looked down at religious practices, intermarried Jews with non-Jewish families, or too poor to be able to leave. This led most Jews to let go of their religious practices. Jews who were born in Cuba after the year 1955 weren’t able to experience most aspects of Judaism other than in the home because they were too young.

In the 1980’s Jews were really struggling in Cuba, but their Jewish life never disappeared. The Jews were still able to pray in synagogues, and attend Sunday schools. The Patronato, the main synagogue in Havana, was barely able to recruit a minyan (ten people minimum for prayers). Jewish families still continued to practice Jewish traditions at home and celebrate the major holidays. The present day Cuban Jewish population is about one tenth of what it used to be before the revolution in 1959, and the population keeps shrinking. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) helped to rebuild the Jewish population by sending Rabbis and community organizers to help with the education and to perform ceremonies for the Jews in Havana. They also provide them with health services and medications, as well as helping by sending food and special items that would be needed for proper observance of Jewish holidays. Even until this day, they never shut down the synagogues in Havana, as there are some people who have gone, and still go, every single week on the Sabbath. Some even say that they felt safer as a Jew in Cuba, and still do, than they did anywhere else abroad.



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