Jews in Cuba
February 16, 2006 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Remembrance on the Island: The enduring legacy of the Jewish-Cuban diaspora, and the existence of the 1,500 Jews that still remain in Cuba.
posted by naxosaxur (12 comments total)
The enduring legacy of the Jewish-Cuban diaspora

Commonly referred to as the Juban diaspora.
posted by jonson at 1:07 PM on February 16, 2006

Cool post. The irony of the Cuban Jewish community is that it was composed largely of European Jews who had tried to enter the United States in the early 20th century but were turned away because of anti-semitic immigration quotas. Many of them called Cuba things like "Hotel Havana," indicating that they did not intend to stay long. The Cuban Revolution both destroyed their fortunes and facilitated their entries into the United States--now that they were refugees from communism.

One of my best friends in college was from a Jewish/Cuban family that fled the Revolution. In 2003 I took a group of students to Cuba and we visited Bet Shalom Synagogue one day, the caretaker there showed me an old book of synagogue elders with a picture of my friend's grandfather.
posted by LarryC at 1:57 PM on February 16, 2006

the 1,500 Jews that still remain in Cuba.

Heh. That probably means that there are more Jews in Cuba then there are in my home state of Missouri. Whoda thunk?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2006

I don't know. There are a lot of Jews in St. Louis and Kansas City.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2006

Wow, fascinating stuff:
In the late 1800's, Jews from the Dutch Antilles settled in Cuba. They supported Jose Marti, who liberated Cuba from Spanish colonial rule in 1898. Following the Spanish American War, a number of American Jewish war veterans settled in Cuba and founded a congregation in Havana in 1904... A large number of Jews immigrated to Cuba from 1910 until 1920, including Sephardic Jews from Turkey. Many of these Jews came from Eastern Europe and used Cuba as a stopover en route to the United States, which had a strict quota system at that time. Many decided to stay since there was little anti-Semitism in Cuba, as well as good weather... Jews were called "Polacos" (Polacks) by the Cubans, even if they were not from Poland. In fact, all immigrant Jews and non-Jews without an English accent were called Polacos, including Germans, French, Hungarians and Turks.
I can't figure out from the links whether the majority were Ashkenazi or Sephardi; anybody know?

Great post on a little-known subject: definitely Best of MeFi.
posted by languagehat at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2006

Having recently visited Cuba, I'm now very curious about the island's history. Thanks.
posted by raedyn at 5:44 PM on February 16, 2006

Now I want to visit Cuba!

Actually, I've always wanted to visit Cuba.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:41 PM on February 16, 2006

It's wonderful in a lot of ways. Very strange in some others.

Example: they have bill boards all over, just like the US, but it's all propaganda information, rather than advertisements for products.
posted by raedyn at 7:29 PM on February 16, 2006

my own family has intermarried with cuban jews, and it is therefore the reason for my familiarity with the diaspora. However, they all raised families in manhattan, and culturally identify more with being 'new york jews' rather than with their cuban heritage.

the only real difference is that at the bat & bar mitzvahs, we rawk the fuck out with great music, food, and dancing. none of the lame hava na gila and gefilte fish crap. :)

...and many thanks languagehat!
posted by naxosaxur at 6:20 AM on February 17, 2006

The majority were probably Sephardi; the song referred to in the first link is in Ladino, the Sephardic language of the diaspora. Interesting post, thank you.
posted by adamvasco at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2006

HAVANA, Cuba (AFP): At the Beth Shalom synagogue in Havana, the Cuban flag flies next to that of Israel, even though the two countries have had no diplomatic relations since 1973.

A bust of Jose Marti, a hero of Cuban independence, stands near the candles lit for Sabbath prayers. Even Fidel Castro went to one of the Cuban capital's three synagogues in 1999 in a sign of the emerging religious freedom in Castro's communist state.

The Jewish community of about 15,000 fell to about 1,000 after Castro's 1959 revolution declared this Caribbean island an atheist state. Now there are more than 900 people from 403 families in Havana and a few dozen more in the provinces.
great post, thanks
posted by matteo at 8:50 AM on February 17, 2006

the song referred to in the first link is in Ladino, the Sephardic language of the diaspora.

Yeah, I caught that, but if you read to the end you find it's a song sung by Behar's parents. All it proves is that she personally comes from a Sephardi family.
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on February 17, 2006

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