Not too much to report on this end. Shabbat has been a relatively quiet time for us here.
We spent last evening at the Patronato - the largest synagogue (Conservative in affiliation) in Cuba.
As we had learned earlier in the week, the Patronato's demographics are skewed toward the younger side. Thus, we were not surprised to find that young people in their community (none of them older than 30, I would say) took responsibility for leading last night's service.
Although some (not all!) of the melodies were unfamiliar to us, the group unanimously agreed that it was spiritually powerful to participate in a prayer service with our Cuban brothers and sisters, realizing that so much of our own Shabbat customs are similar to their's.
We all commented on how inspiringand meaningful it was that the youth took such a prominent role in last night's proceedings (not just the service-leading, but also the obligatory end-of-service musical performance of their school children -- a mini-version of our own Junior Choir!). I am urging our group to see these accomplishments of the Cuban community within the larger picture of Jewish life around the world. This is what it's all about for every Jewish community: keeping the flame alive, and passing it along to the next generation.
Services were followed by dinner. Although the language barrier unfortunately prevented us from directly interacting with too many Cubans during the meal, we did enjoy meeting some American Jewish college students who were there last night. They are in Cuba on study abroad programs for the semester (yes: legally allowed by the US).
This morning, I returned to the Sephardic synagogue for services. It was a more intimate (i.e. smaller) crowd, but meaningful nonetheless. It was also an older crowd - and truly remarkable that these adults (who grew up at a time when the resources of today's Cuban Jewish community did not exist) have committed themselves to Jewish learning, and are able to do what they do.
I was invited to join the community for lunch, and my conversations with their community were a highlight. Unfortunately, no time to go into more detail about them now. Suffice it to say: they are LOVELY people.
I should note that - at the conclusion of the lunch - they orchestrated the distribution of supplies to those in need. It was kind of this unspoken ritual, where there was an automatic deference among the 50 or so people that were there about who was in the greatest need. They got to line up first, and everyone had a chance to "go shopping" from the supplies that had been laid out. Although I don't think that these were the supplies that our group had dropped off just this week, I know that they will be put to good use in the coming weeks.
The whole group enjoyed some much-needed R and R time this afternoon.
Tonight: we will all be travelling as a group to a palladar (a restaurant inside someone's private home) - one of the few private capitalistic enterprises allowed by the state. We'll mark Havdalah (the ceremony ending Shabbat) together there. Then, some of us will then be heading back to the Nacional in the hopes of hearing music there...and I think a few people are also hoping to take in the world-famous show at the Tropicana.
We head inland tomorrow. We'll be marking Yom Ha Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and visiting Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Trinidad. We will not be returning to Havana again until Tuesday. Internet access is mostly non-existent in tourist areas where we're heading, so I may not be able to post again until Tuesday. Stay Tuned.
Shavua Tov from Havana....