I forgot to share my favorite little story from our time with the Santiago Jewish community, numbering all of 30. After Friday night services the members are setting up dinner. It is all very informal. Out comes one of the members with some tables. He is wearing a tee shirt which has four words: Connie Morella for Congress. What are the odds of that?
Today, well rested after our sleep in the rather luxurious Melia Cohiba, a joint enterprise of the Cuban government and Spanish hotel people, we dined on an elaborate buffet which included more kinds of treif than my eyes have ever seen, and then we were off to the one Orthodox Shul in all of Cuba, Adath Israel. It’s rabbi like leader, Yaakov, told us quite a story.
Adath Israel had 2000 members in 1956 when it built the large Beit Knesset in which we were welcomed. Construction was finished in 1959. That was the year of the revolution, and you know now that 90% of Cuban Jewry was gone very soon after. Yaakov joked that the only Jews who remained were the ones who couldn’t afford a plane ticket. Anyway, almost none of the community got to enjoy their new shul. Religion of any kind was not encouraged for thirty years after the revolution, so the congregation hung on for dear life. Now, under Yaakov’s leadership, it is back to 460 members. Sounds good. But in actuality it is an aging group which comes to davven and hangs around for meals and some more davvening and physician visits and some programming. Pensions are too low to provide much food or medical care, and the wait for doctors and ambulances is often days, so the shul is providing social services of import.
As shuls go it didn’t sound so bad. And there is no anti-semitism, no guards at the door, no apparent jealousy over the extra support the community gets from abroad. But then I asked about young people and religious school. The only kids in this shul community are Yaakov’s two little ones, there are no others. Young people have all made aliyah. What future is there for Adath Israel? Yaakov: “this community will survive, I just don’t know how.” We delivered our gifts, including lots of meds, bought some kippot members had made, toured the shul including the large sanctuary that is now basically a museum, gave a little tzedakah, and got back on our bus. There are two more shul’s to visit, hopefully their futures will not seem as bleak.
We did some touring in Havana. At first glance it is a busy city with two million inhabitants and lots of energy. Unlike in the eastern cities where we began, there are stately boulevards and monuments, hotels that housed world dignitaries and the likes of Hemingway, no horses and no bus trucks. But one block in from the major roads all is not as good.
We have two more days in Havana. I hope to report in again soon. Best, Bill Rudolph