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Cuban Jewish Leader Describes Precarious Situation of Cuba’s Jews

Jews in Cuba face no discrimination, but the lack of teachers and rabbis for the tiny community points to a precarious future, a leader of Cuban Jews told American Jewish leaders here.

Moisis Asis, of the Comision Coordinadora de las Sociedades Religiosas Hebreas de Cuba (Coordinating Commission of the Jewish Community of Cuba), told representatives from 30 American Jewish organizations at the World Jewish Congress that since the Cuban revolution, Jewish emigration and the decaying communal infrastructure have meant that “one generation has been lost and we are now trying to spiritually rescue the new one.”

Asis pointed out that through the years of political turbulence, the Cuban Jewish community has maintained its membership in the World Jewish Congress.

Since the revolution, some 85 percent of the island’s Jews have emigrated, leaving a population of about 1,000 persons, mostly in Havana. The same five synagogues that existed 30 years ago still stand although they are sustaining very serious physical deterioration.

POLICY OF THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT

The Cuban government, Asis noted, is very careful in distinguishing its political pro-PLO stance from any form of anti-Semitic attitudes or actions toward the community. The real threat to the community, he said, was that its shrunken membership now has “no rabbi, no cantor, no mohel, and no teacher.” There remains, however, a kosher butcher shop in Havana and the community pays for a shochet.

The Cuban government has evidenced a new openness toward allowing the Jewish community to find the means to sustain its Jewish identity. Asis noted he had for the first time in many years met with the head of the Ministry of Religious Affairs who expressed agreement to allow visiting rabbis, to permit the community to send Jewish students abroad–even to Israel–to receive religious instruction, and to cut through red tape so as to allow money to be brought in for the repair of the synagogues.

TWO REMARKABLE EVENTS

In the face of very rapid assimilation, two small but remarkable events have occurred just in the last month: they had begun to teach a small group of children Hebrew at a communal center and had brought young people together for their first involvement in Jewish activities.

Being six years old at the time of the revolution, Asis pointed out, he had never received a formal Jewish education and was self-motivated about things Jewish, learning Hebrew from the former president of the Zionist Union of Cuba who now resides in Jerusalem.

“When I first read from our teachings in the Torah and the Talmud, I knew and I wanted to convey to others that there was no contradiction between Judaism and the most progressive philosophies and thoughts throughout history and in our time,” he said.

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