End of USSR Means Hardships for Jews and Others in Cuba

For the 892 Jews of Cuba, the disappearance of their country’s protector and patron, the Soviet Union, means pretty much what it means for the other 10 million inhabitants of the island: shortages.

“It is very, very hard for all the Cubans,” Moises Asis, Cuba’s lone teacher of Judaism, said in a recent interview here.

Asis, a scientist and writer, has traveled to the United States in recent years for training as a Jewish educator. In December, he made his first visit to Israel.

According to Asis, 83 percent of Cuban Jews live in Havana, where they suffer less than in other parts of the country from the shortages of food, clothing, electricity and fuel that plague the Communist stronghold now that the flow of rubles has stopped.

But even in the capital city, Cubans must wait in long lines for most goods. With fuel scarce, cars and buses are becoming increasingly rare sights. This has taken a toll on Jewish communal life; which revolves around four synagogues and a community center.

The community numbers 305 families by Asis’ count, most of which include non-Jewish spouses. About 100 families buy kosher meat, but with oxen filling in for disabled tractors, “we’re going to become vegetarians,” said Asis.

This comes at a time when the last restrictions on Cuban Jewry are being lifted.

In October, the Communist Party lifted the ban on religious believers joining the party. This had discouraged some young Jews from affiliating with the community and blocked the professional rise of those that did so identify.

But with only a minority of Cubans as party members even before the retreat of communism elsewhere in the world, these restrictions had not kept Jews from attaining high positions in the scientific community.

ANTI-ISRAEL LINE CONTINUES

However, Cuba has not renounced its staunchly anti-Israel diplomatic line, being one of the 25 states that voted last month against the repeal of the U.N. General Assembly’s 1975 resolution branding Zionism as racism.

Asis says the anti-Zionism party line does not bleed over into anti-Semitism. But it does restrict the entry of Jewish and Hebrew-language textbooks into the country.

This anti-Zionism dates back to 1973, when Cuba sought to lead the non-aligned bloc. Prior to that time, a sympathy for Israel and Zionism kept Cuba as one of the few Communist countries with ties to Israel after the Six-Day War.

But in 1978, in what was touted as a gesture to the Arab delegates of the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students, Fidel Castro closed down the Zionist Union, where Asis studied Hebrew.

International Jewish organizations keep up close ties with the Cuban community, generally through Latin American affiliates not bound by the U.S. trade and travel embargo. The Canadian Jewish Congress sends provisions for Passover, as does a B’nai B’rith lodge in Washington.

And next month, a delegation of the American Section of the World Jewish Congress will fly to Havana for what is described as the first formal visit to Cuba by a Jewish organization.

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