At Havana’s three synagogues, congregations share Shabbat dinners, familiar songs, services and commaraderie. In far-flung island communities, small numbers of Jews band together to keep traditions alive. When you visit a Jewish house of worship here, you’ll likely feel an instant connection with people who share your traditions and welcome you without reservation.
It’s said that Cuba’s first Jews escaped to the island from Spain around the time of (or perhaps with) Columbus. Jews from many nations have settled in Cuba since, and a number of refugees hid here during the Holocaust.
In the ‘30s and ‘40s, Havana was home to thriving kosher butcher shops, bakeries, and other Jewish businesses, and close-knit congregations. Cuba, like many nations, has lost much of its Jewish population—not through anti-Semitism but the changing business climate brought about by the Revolution. (There is little anti-Semitism here. Fidel Castro has spoken in support of the Jewish people and brother Raul participated in a Chanukah celebration wearing a suit and yarmulke.)
Cuba’s centuries-long Jewish history survives in stories and photos. The Holocaust Memorial in the Ashkenazic cemetery and exhibits at Templo Sephardi and the Jewish cemetery at Santa Clara attest to the colorful history of the Jewish people in this tropical paradise.
The Holocaust Memorial [photo credit: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org]