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September 09, 1966 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1966-09-09

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Cuban Jewry: Its Current Ac Live Functionaries


(Copyright, 1966, JTA, Inc.)
* 4 *

Cuba's 2,500 Jews are a mere 25
percent of the 10,000 who lived on
the island in the days before the
successful Castro revolution of New
Years Day, 1959.
The dominant occupation is ex-
comerciante, and the prevailing
age is the 60s. The young people
are gone and, to a great extent,
their parents too. For, until 1962,
the children, once they were ad-
mitted to the United States, could
claim their parents with the all-
powerful "waiver." As a result
many, if not most, who remain are
in the category of the unmarried
or the childless. .

The island is living under a
rigid Marxist dictatorship that
operates with little regard for the
amenities of civil freedoms as we
know _them. The Jews of Cuba,
though virtually fully declassed,
and stripped of their property, all
concede that they merely share
the lot of all Cubans of their na-
tion—they reject all complaint of
anti-Semitism or discrimination.

is the Adath Israel, whose presi-
dent is a Galician-born watch-
maker (who still retains his es-
esentially one-man watch repair
business). This is a "heimishe"
institution of the old school, lo-
cated in Old Havana (Habana
Vieja), one block away from the
famed "Moishe Pipik" restau-
rant, now nationalized but still
under strict kashruth supervision.
The synagogue's membership is
a mixture of all East European
dialects and varieties of Yiddish
and Hebrew accentuation. Its
shammes is a sibilant Litvak who
stems from Eishishok (until I
met him I thought this was one
of those mythical hamlets invent-
ed to mock the Lithuanian Jew).
Its parness is a shirt manufac-
turer who is permitted retain his
small plant but who manufac-
tures, of course, only for the gov-

The shoihet has a saintly bearded
face. To add the shtetl touch, he
is known as Pinye-Shoihet.
This congregation, until recently,
was the organization responsible
for matzoh distribution to Cuba's
Jews — a task now taken over by
a coordinating committee.
The uptown Ashkenazic synago-
gue — known popularly as the "Pa-
tronate"—is far more than a syna-
gogue. It is a communal center, a
catering hall, a cultural home. It
possesses one of the outstanding
Jewish libraries in Latin America
with well-stocked and well-used
shelves in Spanish, Yiddish and
English. It houses Havana's sec-
ond, though part-time, kosher re-
staurant, which like the first has
a rather severely limited range of
choice in the menu at present. The
Patronate is a symbol of the
Havana Jewry that was—a corn=
munity of prosperity and good liv-
ing but which paid attention to the
spirit no less than to the senses.
The present executive members
of the Patronate are in the main
not the well-to-do founders of 15
years ago, most of whom have long

It is this mixture of proletarian
dictatorship and relative freedom
for Jewish community life and ac-
tivity that make this community an
interesting one at this time, despite
its bleak outlook for the future. All
the Jewish religious and commun-
al institutions that flourished be-
fore the Fidelist regime are still in
existence, some perhaps more ac-
tive than ever. This would certain-
ly apply to the auxiliary welfare
and relief committees such as the
Bikur Holim, the Beneficencia, the
Frauen Farein and the Anti-Tuber-
culosis League.
There were and are five synago-
gues in Havana, arranged and lo-
cated in regular fashion according
to "ethnic origin" and social level;
two Ashkenazi synagogues, o n e
downtown and one uptown; two
Sephardi, similarly situated and—
something of an anomaly in the
Cuba of today—an American Re-
form Temple.
since left. They describe them-

The downtown Ashkeanzic shul

have a fierce proprietary pride in
their institution. They resent rum-
ors that have been spread by emi-
gres in Mexico and by stories in
the New York Yiddish press that
the Patronate is on the verge of
collapse and has been virtually
taken over by the government.
Marcus Matterin, a bachelor in
his late 40s, who was brought to
Havana from Kovno at the age of
6, is the librarian and cultural di-
rector. He conducts—lectures and
discussions on Jewish music, on
Great Jews of the Western World-
Herzl, Heine, Freud, Einstein, etc.
The language used is Spanish,
though Yiddish is used when the
themes deal with the writing of
Leivick, Peretz or Sholom Alei-

One of the hero figures of Cuba
—common to Fidelistas and Cub-
an patriots of all shades—is Jose
Marti, an intellectual rebel who
lived in the 19th century. He
made frequent observations about
Jews and Judaism in his writ-
ings, and one of the favorite oc-
cupations of the Cuban Jewish
intelligentzia is to collect these
observations and catalogue them.

In my two visits to Cuba since
1962 I have seen two such com-
pendiums, one in Yiddish and one
in Spanish, published by the Maim-
onides Lodge of Bnai Brith (or
Bene Berith, as it is Hispanically
The two Sephardic congregations
are the Shevet Achim in the Old
City, and the Centro Hebreo Sefa-
radi, situated in the more elegant
suburbs. Cuba's Sephardim are in
the main from the Aegean lands
of the former Ottoman Empire,
stemming from Smyrna and Istan-
bul. They came to the Caribbean
island just before World War I, but
were soon overtaken by the more
numerous and more aggressive
Ashkenazim, who arrived after
World War I. They had little diffi-
culty making the transition to
Spanish, as their native vernacular
was Ladino (still in use I was told
selves as simple folksmenshn, and by the very old, and, like Yiddish
in the USA, also used to punctuate
a homey saying or joke).
Those I met were a cultured, ur-
bane lot. Many had lived in Switz-
erland or France, and spoke En-
glish and French equally well.
Admittedly not as deeply versed in
Jewish lore and tradition, and with
perhaps a higher rate of intermar-
riage, they were very conscious of
their Jewish heritage and of their
link with Israel. One was proud
that a son and a daughter (both
abroad) were married to Ashkena-

Bnai Brith's mainstay is a
"Turkish" Jew, Marco Pitchon;
through the shehita and kashruth
ration which all observant and
some non-observant Jews share;
through the Passover food ship-
ments, sent annually by the
Canadian Jewish Congress.
The "Turks," as the Russo-Po-

Molly Picon says:

"Reach for Rokeach
Gefilte Fish."

It's patented!
You'll taste the difference.

All Rokeach Products are endorsed by the 0

lish Jews call them, constitute one-
third of the community and, to
some extent, are worse off than
the Ashkenazim. The reason is that
among them there was a higher
proportion of peddlers. When the
regime started to confiscate and
nationalize retail businesses, they
were at a disadvantage. Not having
any actual store or real property
or fixtures, they were not eligible
for compensation and were left de-
The fifth synagogue is not only
American in ritual but actually so
in name. Its name is neither Span-
ish nor Hebrew, but English—the
United Hebrew Congregation
known to the community as the
"United Hebrew." The former
American members are gone, and
there remain only a small number
of Central and East European
Jews who were attracted by its
liberal worship. The president
speaks English with Midwest ac-
Cuba is the only Marxist coun-
try that publicly permits a Zionist
organization. The offices are locat-
ed next door to the Club Sociedad
Arab, which displays a portrait on
its door of Abdul Nasser flashing


1 4 Friday, September 9, 1966

a toothy grin. Unlike Argentina, re-
lations with the small Arab com-
munity are of the best. The Zionist
Center carries on no fund-raising
and no political or halutziut acti-
vities. It has a youth center, He-
brew classes, and community get-
togethers on festive occasions
throughout the Jewish year.

Jews for the many aliyeth, he
would sing out: "Yaamod Reb
Shmuel ben Reb Moshe—Hanogid!"
The next man would be called •-.4
"Ha g'vir!" and the next — "Ha-
'oisher!" — all in gentle derision
of their expropriated and national-
ized state.

The Albert Einstein School is
an afternoon school that functions
after 3 p.m. (before that hour,
it is the neighborhood Cuban pub-
lic school). It has a staff of three
who teach Hebrew, Yiddish and
Jewish history (no actual religion
can be officially taught under pre-
sent Cuban regulations). The
teachers are paid by the state,
and the state provides bus trans-
portation (whenever possible un-
der the present erratic condi-
tions). The enrollment is 96,
which represents the total ele-
mentary school age population of
Jewish children in Havana, in-
cluding children of mixed mar-

Boston Tea Party Caterer
An anti-Semite was debating
with an old timer from the lower

East Side of New York.
. "Listen," snapped the anti-Sem-
ite. "What have you Jews done to
earn your place in history it'
The old-timer thought for a mo-
ment and exclaimed, "Did you
ever hear of Haym Salomon, who
financed the American Revolu-


The anti-Semite thought for a
moment, then exclaimed, "All
right, so there's one, but after him
—I dare you name another."
The old-timer thought, then re-
plied , "Did you ever hear of the
Boston Tea Party?"
The anti-Semite nodded, "Yes, I
did, so what?"
The old-timer smiled coyly and
commented, "Nu, so who do you
think was the caterer?"

The most fortunate Jews are
those who have received compen-
sation for their small businesses.
Others live on their savings, which
are depleted from month to month.
Some receive small pensions (of 50
pesos a month). For those who
have not these sources, during 1965
Men think highly of those who
the European Jewish communities
came to the rescue. Money was rise rapidly in the world; whereas
raised in Europe and sent to Cuba nothing rises quicker than dust,
via Swiss banks. In Cuba, with straw and feathers.—Hare.
government approval, the coordi-
nating committee distributed to the
needy monthly sums based on size
of family and other requirements.
The Joint Distribution Committee,
because of USA restrictions, can-
not send and has not sent any mon-
ey to Cuba. It is uncertain whether
the European Jewish communities
will be able to continue this aid in
The most apt if ironic commen-
tary I heard on Cuban Jewry was
that made by a synagogue gabbai
"Gel Our Price Last"
when I was there in 1962, during
Simhat Terab. In summoning the



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