Havana, Cuba - Today, Cuban Jewish leaders asked their American counterparts to support policies of engagement that have strengthened Cuba's religious institutions and their ability to help the Cuban people. In an open letter sent today, Cuba's Jewish leaders seek unity from the American Jewish community as the Administration undergoes the rule-making process for new Cuba regulations following President Trump's recently announced directive. The text of the letter is available below.
The island's Jewish community, which has benefited significantly from increased engagement with the U.S., has been a resource for all Cuban people. Cuba's Jewish leaders are concerned that even a partial rollback of policy would curb the progress that has helped to strengthen Cuba's Jewish organizations and their capacity to help all Cuban people of need in their surrounding communities.
"There is a permanent desire to promote the continual development of this relationship and to strengthen the benefits that are starting to take shape, mainly for our people," the Cuban Jewish leaders wrote.
"Knowing that the Jewish communities and institutions of the United States have an interest in the relations with the Jewish people of the world, and especially towards Latin America, we request that we work together so that our countries do not go backwards in what has been accomplished and assure that the Cuban and American people enjoy a peaceful and prosperous future," they added.
There are three active synagogues in Havana, including one Orthodox synagogue. The government has been supportive of the community in recent years, with President Castro even attending Hanukkah ceremonies at Beth Shalom Synagogue.
As the letter points out, the community is sustained and supported in part by North American Jewish communities and organizations. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, for instance, has initiated programs in Cuba such as Shabbat dinners, organizing bar and bat mitzvahs, religious education, and Jewish summer camps. Additionally, with support from American counterparts, Cuba's Jewish community has been able to provide important services to the people of Cuba through the operation of a pharmacy and by organizing social and religious events and gatherings.
"American travelers have been a great source of support for religious institutions in Cuba, providing material and monetary support, sharing information and building important friendships and professional relationships," said Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel."Religion transcends politics and language. It's a shame the Trump Administration is making it tougher for American travelers to visit Cuban."
"Increased engagement with Cuba has fostered strengthened ties between the Jewish communities of the United States and Cuba. This cultural unity and the benefits it has provided for the Cuban people is a perfect example of how engagement works," said President of Engage Cuba, James Williams. "Cuba's religious leaders unequivocally state that engagement has improved religious freedom on the island and benefited the Cuban people. As the Administration crafts new Cuba regulations, we hope they listen to the people they claim they want to help. We encourage President Trump to meet with Cuba's Jewish leaders to hear about how our two countries can work together to improve religious freedom and economic prosperity for the Cuban people."
“The economic, educational, and spiritual support of American Jews has been crucial to the development and continued flourishing of the Jewish community in Cuba. Visits of American Jews to Cuban synagogues and their participation in Jewish rituals and holidays create deep bonds of trust, friendship, and solidarity," said Professor Ruth Behar, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan who has extensively researched the story of the Jews of Cuba. "Jews in Cuba are reminded that they are not alone, that they are part of a larger global Jewish community, and American Jews are often moved to tears to witness the vibrant Jewish life that Cuban Jews maintain despite hardships and the small size of the community on the island. It would be tragic to undermine these important relationships.”
The text of the letter is available below:
July 12, 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Jewish Communities and Institutions of the United States:
The Jewish Community of Cuba, since its founding, has maintained ties of friendship and brotherhood and sisterhood with the Jewish people of the United States, even in moments when diplomatic relations between both countries did not exist.
The bond of our communities was, at times, one of the few areas of relation between the Cuban people and North Americans, similar to how it has been with the people of Israel.
North Americans played a substantial role in the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, and some of them have even visited our synagogues in Havana. The Jewish Community of Cuba happily welcomed the increase in exchanges with Jewish groups of the United States, who have known and shared the realities in which the development of our community takes place in the nation.
We have shared with our visitors the opinion that it is essential to continue advancing relations between the Jewish communities of North America and Cuba. This directly influences the relations that can exist between our countries and, consequently, the path to normalization taken under the current administration of President Donald Trump.
In both the groups that visit us and in our community, there is a permanent desire to promote the continual development of this relation and to strengthen the benefits that are starting to take shape, mainly for our people. We consider it appropriate to share this thought with you in order to contribute what we can so that the process of normalization continues and comes to fruition.
In the case of the Jewish communities, it would be excellent to continue deepening the relations, exchanges, and collaboration that have been offered to support the progress and development of the Jewish Community of Cuba. The programs and projects that are carried out in our synagogues also benefit the people in need in our community.
Knowing that the Jewish communities and institutions of the United States have an interest in the relations with the Jewish people of the world, and especially towards Latin America, we request that we work together so that our countries do not go backwards in what has been accomplished and assure that the Cuban and American people enjoy a peaceful and prosperous future.
Adela Dworin, President, Jewish Community of Cuba (Havana)
David Prinstein, Vice President, Jewish Community of Cuba (Havana)
Mayra Levy, President, Sephardic Center (Havana)
Esther Jequin, Vice President, Sephardic Center (Havana)
Samuel Sagovalob, President, B'nai B'rith Maimonides Lodge (Havana)
David Tacher, President, Jewish Community of Santa Clara & Coordinator for the Central Region
Rodolfo Mizraji, President, Jewish Community of Guantanamo & Coordinator for the Eastern Region