Cuba /May 11, 2021

Jews of Cuba

The following guest article on the Jews of Cuba has been written by Scott Berenthal from Chateau Blanc, the first and only kosher accommodation in Cuba.

Cuba is a country known to all, adored by many and yet, a mystery to most.  The largest island in the Caribbean by far, it is home to many of the world’s treasures including its renowned rum and Habanos® cigars  as well as some of the most spectacular beaches on Earth.

But perhaps Cuba’s greatest asset is its warm and welcoming people, representing a variety of cultures including African, European, Indigenous Tainos and among the least recognized but impactful, the Jews of Cuba.

Jews have been a part of the cultural fabric of Cuba since the time of Columbus and played a significant role in the development of the country over the years, from participating in the Spanish American War to liberate the country from Spain to eventually helping Jose Marti secure the country’s independence as a sovereign nation.

Two major migration waves during the first and second world wars helped to further establish the Jewish community in Cuba, resulting in a peak of over 15,000 Jews living in the country prior to the Communist Revolution in 1959.  Sephardic Jews came in the first wave, having fled the decline of the Ottoman empire.

The second wave in the 1930s saw the Ashkenazi refugees from war torn Europe make their way to the island as a stopping point while awaiting entry to the United States.   Many of them, however, elected to stay in the country permanently and became a vibrant and successful middle class of merchants who integrated with the broader Cuban culture.

In a new adoptive homeland, these migrants helped establish a rich community in Havana that included three synagogues, a cultural center and even a Jewish cemetery at Guanabacoa on the outskirts of Havana.

Following the Revolution, most Jews fled the country in search of new opportunities, but a small group remained.  While today the there are fewer than 1,500 Jews in Cuba today, they continue to keep the flame of Judaism alive.  The institutions founded by their predecessors are all still operational and continue to host religious services, weddings, bar mitzvahs and other cultural events.

The Centro Sephardi has a small, but poignant Holocaust exhibit that provides a good historical perspective.  As an operating synagogue, the Patronato synagogue (Beth Shalom) is home to a pharmacy that stores and processes aid for distribution to the local community, both Jewish and secular.

Most recently, a kosher bed and breakfast hotel – Chateau Blanc – was opened in Havana in 2019 and is the first and only facility of its kind on the island, providing kosher meals, products & catering as well as a Jewish themed décor.

We welcome visitors who wish to take an opportunity to visit Cuba and explore this unique part of the island’s history.  As Cuba is a relatively poor country, we encourage travelers to consider bringing in aid in the form of over-the-counter and prescription medicine, foodstuffs, and other sundry items.  Pack For a Purpose is a great not-for-profit organization that helps travelers best prepare for their journey”.

Beyond The Ordinary specialise in tailor made holidays to Cuba and can arrange flights from the UK as well as accommodation at Chateau Blanc, transfers, local tours as well as the Cuba Tourist Cards (visas) required to enter the island.

To discuss your travel plans, either email us on travel@beyondtheordinary.co.uk or give us a buzz on 01580 764796.

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