by Nathan Guttman
Letter from Havana: There is only one kosher butcher in Cuba, but if
community president Adela Dworin knows her community — and she does —
there is also only one Jew in the country who buys
kosher meat. It is Dworin herself.
Cuba's leader Fidel Castro made sure the Jews could have their own
kosher meat, even during the years when religion in Cuba was considered
a vice. And so there was always a kosher butcher.
But no rabbi.
The 1,500 Jews now living in Cuba learned to get by without a permanent
minister, conducting services with lay leaders from the community and
visiting rabbis from other Latin American countries.
"That's just the Cuban way," says a community member on the steps of the
Conservative synagogue in Havana. "We know how to get along, that's what
Dworin herself has proved this point. This is her fourth decade of
involvement with the Jewish community of Havana.
She was here in the good days when the community flourished, then in the
tough days following the revolution, and now in the better days, when
being Jewish in Cuba is perfectly legitimate and accepted. But there are
not that many Jews left to take advantage of this freedom.
In Dworin's office at the Jewish community centre stands a bust of José
Marti, the father of Cuban independence. In the hallway hangs a photo of
Castro's historic visit to the synagogue nine years ago.
"We are proud Cubans and proud Jews," she says, adding that she never
feels any problem talking about her religion in Cuba. Neither did the
dozens of Jews who filled the synagogue this Rosh Hashanah.
But Dworin still worries. She sees young professionals — active members
of the community — talking about leaving Cuba and about looking for a
better life abroad. She worries that religious freedom alone will not be
enough to keep them here.
A century ago, the Jews used to call the country "Hotel Cuba", seeing it
as a short overnight stay on their way from Eastern Europe to the United
Many of them made this hotel their home, making it an active,
15,000-strong community before the revolution. Now, even though the
community is much smaller than before, Jewish life is back in Havana.
But some fear that the "Hotel" days are back too, and that many are
still waiting for the opportunity to complete their journey.