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Cuban Official Offers to Help Island’s Tiny Jewish Community

The Cuban government is prepared to help the Caribbean nation’s tiny Jewish community survive, according to an official of the Canadian Jewish Congress who visited Havana recently.

Edmond Yehuda Lipsitz, executive director of the CJC Ontario region, met in Havana with Jose Felipe Carneado, director of the Department of Religious Affairs in Fidel Castro’s Communist regime.

They agreed that the first priority is to get a spiritual leader for Cuban Jews, who number roughly 700 in a population of about 10 million, Lipsitz reported here.

He said a demographic survey by a Havana Jew, Moises Asiz, found that 92 percent of Jewish married couples in Cuba are mixed marriages.

That is a consequence of the mass exodus of Cuban Jews when the Communist regime took over in 1959. But without authoritative leadership, the remaining Jewish community will soon disappear, Lipsitz said.

He said there are Spanish-speaking candidates for the position of rabbi. The main problem is housing for the rabbi or rabbinical couple in a city where housing is in very short supply.

Carneado thought the government could be helpful, provided the amount of rent could be agreed to.

The second problem is kosher food. The CJC and the Chabad Lubavitch movement provide Cuban Jews with matzoth and other Passover foods every year. The Appeal of Conscience Foundation also has provided Passover food in the past.

Carneado suggested that a kosher restaurant or hotel might be opened in Cuba by private or communal interests. He said his government would welcome and cooperate in such a venture.

Havana had a highly rated kosher restaurant in the pre-revolution era called “Moishe Pipik” on Acosta Street in the old Jewish section. It was a tourist landmark as famous as “Sloppy Joe’s.”

Finally, there is the problem of brit milah, Lipsitz reported. With no resident mohel on the island, Jewisii boys are not circumcised.

Lipsitz said he discussed various proposals with Carneado, including sending Cuban Jewish physicians to Canada for training as molehill. He said Carneado expressed willingness to cooperate in such a plan by making travel possible.

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