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Wj Congress Leader Says Cuba’s Jews Struggling to Maintain Jewish Life

Cuba’s dwindling Jewish community is carrying on a valiant struggle to maintain Jewish life without the assistance of any rabbis, cantors or professional teachers. Unless adequate aid can be provided, members of the American Section of the World Jewish Congress were told by Lavy Becker of Montreal, this community “born in 1906, right after the Spanish-American War, will almost completely vanish by the end of this century.”

Similar concern for the one million Jews of Latin America was expressed by Dr. Gerhart M. Riegner, of Geneva, WJC secretary-general. “Unless we help these Jewish communities come through this difficult period, we will soon be faced with another serious crisis,” he said.

Dr. Riegner stressed that “economic and political uncertainties rather than anti-Semitism represents the root of Latin American Jewry’s problems.” He said that the WJCongress had already united the divergent factions of Latin America into an umbrella group where they are working on common concerns.

In his report on Cuba, Becker, the WJC’s Consultant on Inter-Community Affairs, unfolded a portrait of Jewish life under the Castro regime and a communist government. He returned last month from his second visit in two years.

The Jewish population of Cuba reached its peak in the 1950’s numbering 14,000. Many arrivals were refugees from Nazism. Today 900 Jews live in Havana and 300 are scattered throughout the rest of the island. Most of the remaining Jews are older.

CATHOLIC TEACHES HEBREW

The government, Becker noted, has permitted the community to retain all of its five synagogue buildings, one of which serves as a Jewish Center and house of worship. Subsidies are provided indirectly by the government which rents the synagogue auditoriums for various functions. Additional small contributions are made by the Cuban Jews from their earnings.

Activities of the community include religious services, festival observances, adult education classes, twice-weekly Hebrew lessons for young people, cultural programs, a circulating library and a choral group. Also a Zionist club and Zionist activities are permitted. The community has remained a member of the World Jewish Congress, and its leaders participate in international meetings, Becker reported. A day school, named after Theodor Herzl, was nationalized as a State School, and with the agreement of the community renamed after Albert Einstein. This was “a more acceptable identity for a communist state, despite Cuba’s legation exchange with Israel,” Becker observed.

He noted that “as a gesture of cooperation, in a nation with gasoline rationing, the 30 to 40 grade school children are bused to the Einstein School so that they can, after their regular classes, study Hebrew and other Jewish subjects for an additional 90 minutes daily.”

Unfortunately, Becker related, the two teachers, whose salaries had been paid by the government, are no longer able to work. Today the children are being taught Hebrew and other subjects by a young Catholic teacher, who received her. He brew training over the last few years in the adult classes in the Jewish community center.

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