The scam of a “Cuban Catholic community” as represented by Cardinal Jaime Ortega and succored from our shores by such as Archbishop Wenski is well known hereabouts. Why should the “Cuban Jewish Community” be any different? Why is everyone afraid to touch this opic? Well, here at Babalu no topic is taboo. To wit:
I’m no Judaism “expert.” But–like all Babalusians–I AM an expert on Castroite scams.
Long suspecting a link between these two themes, I consulted a genuine expert on Judaism with experience in Cuba. She’s a dear friend of mine, a documentarian and the grandaughter of Rabbi J.L. Hahn, who was the GRAND RABBI of VENEZUELA in the 1950’s-60’s. In her innocent youth (1985) my friend visited Cuba attempting to make a documentary on “Cuba’s Jewish Community.” Here’s what she discovered–and is vouchsafing to Babalu as an exclusive:
In the mid 1950s there was a Jewish population of more that 15,000 on the island. There were some who were wealthy, middle-class and a lot who were poor. Now there are maybe 500. Mostly very old, the younger ones predominantly of mixed ethnicity – a non-Jewish parent, completely non-observant.
I first went to the synagogues of Havana in 1985. There had been five functioning synagogues, to match every demonination and ethnicity of Judaism. When I went, there was not one rabbi, cantor or mohel in all of Cuba – and only one of the synagogues was functioning as a house of worship, and there were often not even enough men to make a minyan (the required group of ten men to be able to pray).
There was a large Conservative Ashkenasi synagogue in Vedado, designed in the late 1940s by the famous architect Capablanca, brother of the chess champion. This was huge – it had had a cheder (school for children) and a kosher restaurant and reception hall, and an annex with a library. When I went – many times in the mid 1980s – it was in ruins – broken windows – the entire building massively flooded – the seats in the congregation mildewed and rotted, water in the aisles between the pews. No services occurred there – but the reception area had been turned into the Bertolt Brecht rehearsal hall.
In the old part of the city, there was a Sephardic shul – Shevat Achim (?) – the Cuban government had installed A BAR in the ante-room to the congregation – complete with photos of Castro & Che – oh, and p.s. – the bar was not for “the Jewish community” (Jewish are kind of famous for NOT being big consumers of alcohol). I have photos of Black & Asian men drinking beer there – not a Jew in sight, apart from one wizened old man who was the caretaker.
There was another shul in the barrio Jesus Maria, also in the old city – that one did have morning and evening services, but as I said, often there were not enough men for a minyan. There was no one under the age of 60 at these services – so I can’t imagine who was still alive to be part of the “community” that Alan Gross claimed to have been helping.
I met the “head of the B’nai B’rith” in Havana – an octogenarian – there were only three people in the entire “organization”.
I have had extensive contact with Cuban Jews in exile – in NY, Canada and Miami. All of them find the idea that there is a “Jewish community” in Havana, or Cuba, laughable.
And by the way – what the Jews of Cuba needed were things much more basic than cell phones and laptops. How about CANDLES to bench light for Shabbat – how about CALENDARS so that they could observe their own holidays (the Jewish calendar is lunar, and therefore moveable from year to year). I asked B’nai B’rith and the Israeli consulate in NY, and the Canadian Jewish Congress in Toronto for help about this – but none of them gave a sh*t. (remember this was 1985.)
In brief, there is nothing that could be said to constitute a Jewish community in Cuba or in Havana.
In 1985–with Soviet subsidies to Cuba peaking–tourism, “people to people travel,” “cultural exchanges” blah…blah provided a trivial cash-flow to Castro’s family fiefdom.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 this cash-flow issue changed dramatically. Hence the magical re-emergence (from what my friend describes) to a suddenly vibrant “Cuban Jewish Community.” Alan Gross learned about the scam the hard way. As often mentioned here at Babalu: Every head of every “Cuban Jewish group” that Alan Gross worked with and befriended him testified against him during his Stalinist show trial.
The top pic on this post shows the “President of Havana’s Jewish Community House” Adela Dworin with Raul Castro. The bottom shows Adela Dworin escorting the Council on Foreign Relations’ Julia Sweig during one her frequent Cuba visits. Not that there’s anything suspicious in this.