Synagogue group visits Cuba's Jewish community
by Rabbi Arthur Starr

Rabbi Starr, Marilyn Blackhall, Adela Dworin and Helen Goldman
Rabbi Starr, Marilyn Blackhall, Adela Dworin and Helen Goldman
     Twenty-one members of the congregation went to Cuba during the first week in June to visit with the Jewish community there. Traveling under a U.S. Government license obtained by Rabbi Starr for a religious trip, the group visited with members of five different congregations.
      The purpose of the trip was to meet with and bring support to the Cuban Jewish community. After the revolution, most of the Jews left Cuba and there were severe restrictions against religion. Many of those restrictions were lifted around the time of the Pope's visit to Cuba in the 1990s. The society went from anti-religion to non-religion.
     Cuba is today a very non-religious country. The Jewish community has seen a small, but growing, revival of Judaism.
      The group visited the Holocaust Memorial in Havana, believed to be the oldest Holocaust Memorial in the Western Hemisphere; met with a young leader of the Orthodox synagogue, which functions much like a social service agency for its elderly, sick and young people; visited the Sephardic synagogue, which is small and in desperate need of repair in many places; and the Patronato, the Jewish community center, which is also the Conservative synagogue. The group attended Shabbat services there on Friday night and had dinner with the congregation, including its president Adela Dworin.
     Much-needed supplies of medicines and other necessities were delivered to all three groups in Havana.
      A very moving experience took place in Cienfuegos where the group met with Rebecca Langus in her apartment. She is the president of the Jewish community of that city – all nine families and five children! None of them have cars so transportation is difficult. Shabbat services are held one Friday each month in her home, led by her 17-year-old son. Dinner for the community is served after the service. The group left some supplies and donations with her and invited her family to join them for dinner that night.
      A stop in Santa Clara brought the group to the new(and very moving) Holocaust Memorial and a meeting with David, the president of the community there – all eight families and two children. He addressed us very moving remarks and embraced us all.
      The good works that the visitors were able to do were inspirational. Rabbi Starr is planning another group trip under his license for next spring. If you are interested, contact the rabbi at rabbi@stthomassynagogue.com.