Tomorrow night Jews around the world will gather around the Seder table and read the verse above as part of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. When we say, “in every generation each person is obligated to see him/herself as if s/he went out from Egypt,” we call to mind the experience of redemption and the sacred narrative of the Jewish people. Wherever in the world Jews live in whatever language the Jewish community speaks they will recite these words and tell the story.
Tomorrow night I will be thinking about my new friends in Cuba who will recite these words in Hebrew and Spanish. I’ve just returned from an amazing 7-day humanitarian mission to Cuba with 21 members and friends of Temple Beth Hillel and Congregation Kol Ami. Each person made a financial contribution and carried a minimum of 10 pounds of donation items to gift to two synagogues in Havana, the Jewish community in Cienfuegos, and a maternity clinic in Trinidad.
There are approximately 1,500 Jews in Cuba today, 3 synagogues in Havana and scattered communities throughout the country. There is no rabbi in Cuba.
Before the revolution (1959 for those who need a reminder) there were approximately 15,000 Jews, 6-7 Jewish day schools and a Jewish high school. Fidelism (the mixture of communism and socialism that exists today) forbade the practice of religion officially (the Jewish community still met as did other faiths, however if a person wanted to be involved in the government in anyway or attend university s/he could not participate) until 1990. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were not enough people to make a minyan for the High Holy Days. After 1990 and the collapse of socialist countries the Joint Distribution Committee helped to revive the Cuban Jewish community. Today 95% of Cuban Jews are intermarried. Most of the youth are making aliyah to Israel and there are serious concerns for the future of this community.
While we were in Cuba, we celebrated Shabbat at the Patronato synagogue and were hosted for Shabbat dinner. It was amazing to recite the familiar words to tunes that were familiar and unfamiliar and I don’t think there was a dry eye in our group when we recited the words of the Shema together. These words truly unite our people.
We traveled outside of Havana to the city of Cienfuegos. There the Jewish community meets in the leader’s home. There are approximately 18 community members and for Seder they are traveling to another community to celebrate Passover together. There is power in numbers!
There is so much more to say and describe about Cuba, the amazing people and places that we saw. Another post for another time, perhaps. In the meantime, may you have a liberating Passover.