Menu JTA Search

Special Interview Teaching Judaism in Cuba

Moises Asis is the only teacher of Hebrew and Judaism in Cuba today. Late last year he organized a course of Jewish studies, and 10 children currently meet with him every Sunday.

To encourage his voluntary educational work with Havana’s Jewish youth, the Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education (CAJE) invited Asis to its recent meeting at University of Maryland. The trip was arranged by a network of American Jewish friends, who had met Asis while on trips to Cuba, beginning in 1978.

Ranging in age from 4 to II, Asis’s students learn Hebrew, the meaning of holidays, Jewish history and symbolism. Most of the children in his class had no previous involvement with the Jewish community, Asis told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during his visit to New York. His youngest student is his own daughter.

Asis, who says his know ledge of Judaism is generally self-taught, learned Hebrew at the Zionist Union of Cuba, which existed until 1978. He continues his studies at the library of the Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba, a Havana communal organization which also houses a synagogue and meeting rooms. The Cuban Jewish community of about 1000 has four other synagogues, all in Havana.

CREDITS THE LUBAVITCH MOVEMENT

Asis credits the Lubavitch movement with convincing local Jewish parents to have their children study Judaism. In the past one-and-a-half years there have been three visits to Havana by a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi, he said. Other rabbis from the United States, Mexico and Canada have also visited the community, which does not have its own rabbi.

At the CAJE convention, Asis obtained materials on innovative teaching methods, and was able to share ideas with colleagues. He also led a workshop on Jewish life in Cuba.

Asis says he would like to be able to devote more time to teaching Jewish youth. Currently an information scientist with the Ministry of Agriculture, he has free time only on Sundays.

The son of a member of the Communist Party, Asis, 33, says he had no religious training at home. His interest in Judaism began with an intellectual interest in his roots, he said. His grandparents were Sephardic Jews who came to Cuba from Turkey at the beginning of this century.

NEXT STORY