A rabbi from Caracas recently obtained personal permission from President Fidel Castro to bring five Cuban Jews to Venezuela to be re-united with their families there, the Rabbinical Council of America disclosed Monday.
Rabbi Pynchas Brener, spiritual leader of the Union Israelita de Caracas, quoted Castro as telling him he was allowing the Jews to leave “on humane grounds of reuniting families, a worthy cause, and we are going to permit them to leave with you.”
According to Rabbi Milton Polin, president of the Rabbinical Council, Brener flew to Havana last November 24, accompanied by Bishop Alfredo Rodriguez, vice president of the Committee of Relations Between Synagogues and Churches in Venezuela, of which Brener is president.
After meeting with Castro and other Cuban officials, and with Jewish community leaders, Brener was permitted to take the five Jews back with him on the same plane that brought him from Venezuela.
The five were identified as Dr. Julio Imiak and Dr. Solomon Mitrani; Imiak’s mother; and Alberto Fernandez Vinas and Abraham Shujman, all who have kin in Venezuela. The Cuban authorities had previously forbidden the physicians to leave because of the local shortage of medical doctors.
Brener reported that Castro expressed interest in knowing more about the Jewish people and that he had explained to him the history and travails of the Jews, the Holocaust and the importance of Israel to them.
Brener said that 12,000 Jews lived in Cuba prior to the revolution led by Castro in 1959. Today only about 1,000 Jews remain in Havana and 300-400 elsewhere in Cuba. Brener said he brought with him prayer books and religious items for the community.
As a gift for Castro, he brought a Hebrew Bible printed in Israel with an inscription on the inside back cover: “Man is the crown of God’s creation. Therefore, whoever labors on behalf of man and of human society is acting in the spirit of these holy scriptures.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.