Welcome! You've made it to the homepage of Temple Solel's 2010 mission to Cuba. From here you will be able to follow our progress as our group of 15 spends time in Havana, and beyond.

A special word of thanks to the many generous members of the Temple Solel community, who lovingly donated much-needed supplies and money that will go to directly support Cuban Jews and non-Jews alike who are in need - many of whom we will have the privilege of meeting during our trip.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Day Two

Greetings everyone.  It's about 6:40 PM Cuba time here on Thursday.  It's been a busy day.

The bus was rolling at 9 AM (very early for most Cubans, but we were ready to go).  First stop: the Upmann Cigar Factory.  Definitely a must-see stop on any religious pilgrimage to Cuba (well...I guess that's true if you 'worship' a great cigar).  For a variety of reasons (trade secrets or concern for working conditions?) cameras were strictly prohibited on the tour.  The closest I got to a photo is this one, an exterior shot of the building:

I'm not sure that you'll be able to see it, but there's writing on the awning, with the name of the cigar company, and an indication that the building is called the 'Jose Marti' Factory.  You can read all about Marti here.  Our tour guide calls him a combination of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all rolled (yes: a cigar-making pun, sorry) into one.  He's one of the key philosophical backbones to Castro's Revolution.  (More on the Revolution tomorrow.)

The funniest thing, and so un-American.  At the end of the factory tour, they DIDN'T have a store where we could buy cigars!  As an American tourist, I'm so brainwashed into commercially expecting the requisite gift shop at the end of the tour.  Don't fret, though.  There's a highly regarded cigar shop right here in the lobby of our hotel. 

After cigars, it was off to Adath Israel, the Orthodox synagogue of Havana:

Adath Israel is proudly Orthodox, and maintains that families affiliate with them because they are looking for a more 'traditional or Jewishly authentic religious experience.  That's what I would expect to hear from any Orthodox synagogue.  What was unexpected was the open language of partnership that the lay leader whom we met with used, not only in terms of the Conservative community of the Patronato (see below), but - more specifically - with the Reform movement, and with the Reform community of Havana that officially disbanded in the early 1980s.  That community chose Adath Israel to be the official repository of all of its belongings: its archives, its Judaica (including a Torah scroll), and its money.  I was blown away by the lovely archives that Adath Israel lovingly maintains of the Reform community.  One highlight: the prominent display of a newsletter of the National Federation of Temple Secretaries from 1954, highlighting the Reform Movement's creation of the Commission on Social Action (a major Reform milestone!):

What a great example of Orthodox-Reform partnership...

After Adath Israel, it was off to a walking tour of Havana Vieja (the Old City of Havana).  It was recently named a World Heritage Centre by the United Nations.

The area includes a number of streets and alleys with shops, restaurants, and museums.  The area coalesces around the aptly named Plaza Vieja:

Abutting the plaza is an elementary school that we briefly visited.  It was a new and impressive facility.  We had the chance to meet briefly with the school's principal.  Among the many distinguished certificates and awards on her office's wall was:

After the rest of our walking tour, it was off to lunch, followed by our visit to the Patronato - the landmark center of Havana (and the rest of Cuba's) Jewish community.  The Patronato functions as a hybrid synagogue (affiliated with the Conservative Movement) and community center.  The outside of the building is iconic, built in the mid 1950s by the most famous Cuban architect of the time:

We had a meeting with Adele Dworin, President of the Patronato and of Cuba's Jewish community.  We presented her with a huge chunk of the supplies that we brought with us.  (The Patronato has the most sophisticated Jewish supply-distribution operation on the Island.)

After meeting with Adele, we had a tour of the new Youth Wing of the facility with William Miller, Vice President of the Patronato.  The outreach that they are doing to their youth really reminded me of the approach that Craig uses at Solel...making sure that there is a space devoted just to the youth, where they can feel comfortable coming to crash, hang out, etc.  Here are some highlights:

William also made a point of showing us the area in their Multi-Purpose room that the Patronato uses as a staging area for shipping much-needed food and supplies to the much smaller satellite Jewish communities on the other parts of the Island.  (We'll be visiting some of them in the next few days.)

After meeting with William, we went upstairs to the Patronato's very professional pharmacy:

Staffed by doctors and pharmacists several times a week, Jews and non-Jews alike come to the Patronato (prescriptions in hand) to get meds that are impossible to find (or afford) anywhere else.  For us, the visit was especially meaningful because it was easy for us to see - first hand - where the meds that we had brought (graciously donated by so many of you!) would go to be distributed.

Tonight: we're going to enjoy some of Cuba's nightlife, which it is so famous for.  Several group members will be going to enjoy flamenco music and dancing.  I'll be joining the rest of our group at the famous Hotel Nacional, where there is a concert featuring a reunion of many of the surviving musicians who took part in the Buena Vista Social Club project.  I'll share how that went...tomorrow!

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About Me

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Jeff has served as Associate Rabbi of Temple Solel from 2005-2012.