Weird history: Havana’s Kosher Butcher Shop

Hector Berezniak Hernandez, Havana's Kosehr butcher
Hector Berezniak Hernandez, Havana’s Kosher butcher

During the 1960’s and 70’s, it was rumored that the only Cuban business still in private hands was a kosher butcher shop in Havana.

That butcher shop is still there and doing well.  Whether or not the butcher has really “owned” his shop is unclear, but he certainly has run the business by himself– with special exemptions from the Castro regime, including access to to cattle he can slaughter the right way.  All this in a nation where crashing one’s car into a cow or any other edible animal is a major crime.

Weird?  Yes.  The relationship between the Castro dynasty and Cuba’s Jews has always been somewhat odd and ambivalent.

For starters, the so-called Revolution initiated one of the largest mass migrations in Jewish history: in the first three years of the Castro regime about 90% of Cuba’s 15,000 Jews fled the island and were stripped of their properties.

But the Castro regime has had a somewhat cozy relationship with the 1,500 Jews who remained, many of whom were communists.

Another wrinkle in this slice of history is the fact that Lina Ruz, the mother of the Castro brothers, was Jewish.  Her family had migrated to Cuba from the Ottoman Empire.  According to some sources, Fidel was known as “el Judio” when he was a child.

Fidel’s hidden Jewish heritage has not stopped him from hating Israel and cooperating with those who seek to annihilate it.

The history of this butcher shop is not all that important, but it is most definitely one of the weirdest wrinkles in the history of the Castro dictatorship

Oye, pero mira como le encanta jodernos a esta escoria de Babalu
Oye, pero mira como esta gentucha de Babalu nunca se cansa de jodernos

From The Jewish Daily Forward:

How Fidel Castro Saved Cuba’s Only Kosher Butcher

Just by coincidence, forty-eight hours after President Barack Obama announced a coming détente with Cuba, I was in Havana. And talking to a kosher butcher, of all people.

Yes, Havana has a kosher butcher, which sounds like the punch-line of a joke.

There are, after all, only 1,500 Jews left in all of Cuba, the vast majority in Havana. That 1,500 figure is the one generally given by people I met at synagogues in Havana and the outskirts — although Wikipedia claims there are only 500 “core” Jews in the country. A core Jew, it explains, has a Jewish mother and father. If so, then Gibraltar has more core Jews than Cuba.

Still, whatever the number — if that really matters — what is fascinating is how a kosher butcher managed to remain in a country that was intent on wiping out private enterprise as well as barely tolerated organized religion when Fidel Castro took over in 1959.

Yet, the shop has survived, in the same place, all these years. It is run by a gregarious accountant/shochat [butcher] named Yacob Berezniak Hernandez (although on his business card he is listed as “Yacob Berezniak H”). The store is underwritten by Cuba’s only Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel, which Berezniak leads.

“In 1962, Castro wrote a special letter to us, giving us permission to stay open,” explains Berezniak. “I still have that letter.” It is unclear why Castro decided to write that letter. Perhaps it was because about 90 percent of Cuba’s 15,000 Jews left after he came to power and Castro was making a show of being good to the remaining Jews….

Berezniak has a daunting regimen. There are no cows in downtown Havana. So once a month he gets up at 2 A.M. to make the 45-mile trip to a slaughterhouse. There, he personally disposes of about 60 cows in a ritualistic killing — as he describes it, “taking only the front half of the animal.” That is where the kosher cuts are. That yields, he said, about 2,000 pounds which he loads into a refrigerated van and brings back to his shop.

Of course, one man’s kosher is another man’s treyf. There is no kosher certification available in Cuba, but he hews as closely as possible to the elements of kosher slaughter. And then when he has all the meat brought into his shop, he carves it up — and distributes it, for free, to each of the three synagogues.

“There are some people who eat three meals a day at our synagogues,” he explains. “Breakfast at the Reform, lunch at the Conservative, dinner at the Orthodox.”

He figures that, on average, he is able to give about 12 ounces of meat weekly to each person through its distribution from the synagogues.

“The people make a lot of ropa vieja,” he said, chuckling.

Continue reading HERE.

What a wonderful story! See, those Castro brothers are really good guys, and trustworthy.
What a touching, wonderful story. So normalizing!

6 thoughts on “Weird history: Havana’s Kosher Butcher Shop”

  1. Hernández would be his maternal surname, which suggests his mother may not be Jewish, in which case he would not qualify as Jewish even if he had a Jewish father.

  2. When I see an article like this, I feel like my head’s exploding. The Cuban Jewish community was decimated by the dictator. What this article is, as well as Israel’s very “liberal” rag Haaretz’s yesterday Tweet “How Cuba’s Jews kept their kosher butcher thanks to Castro ” is all part of the international communist propaganda machine. The so-called Jews in Cuba get perks, beef, community meals, etc., and the regime gets it’s usual benevolent PR, not to mention loyal acts, such as pretending the regime isn’t a state sponsor of terror, anti-Israel, and if needed testimony against Jews the regime decides to take hostage. It’s vomit inducing vile atheist mierda.

  3. castro’s daugther, Alina, mentions her father’s Jewish ancestry in the first edition of her autobiography. She even has a picture of her great-grandfather, Martin Ruz–who was a Sephardic Jewish immigrant from Istanbul, Turkey. One of the commentators in the Jewish Daily Forward mentioned that Martin descends from a long line of rabbis.

  4. Fidel was called “dirty Jew” by taunting first grade schoolmates at La Salle in Santiago de Cuba because he had not been baptized. He was later baptized at the age of eight, on Jan. 19, 1935, in the Santiago cathedral, and the document names him Fidel Hipolito, “son of Lina Ruz Gonzalez.”
    Regarding the bizarre relationship between Israel and Castro, see Netanyahu’s praise of Fidel Castro here

  5. I don’t know why I bother but I left some responses to this article in the Forward to the “Cuban expert” who enjoys himself while trying to teach us ignorant Castro haters of some”facts”.

  6. Lina may have committed apostasy, then, because she apparently practiced Catholicism as well as being involved in santería, including having images of santería deities or “saints” in her house. However, I don’t know if she was raised to be an observant Jew (but doubt it), and her mother may not have been Jewish, which would also enter into it (her maternal surname was González).

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