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 15, 2010

Days Four and Five

The last I had posted, the group was on the verge of going out for the evening on Saturday night.  We dined together at a palladar.  As I think I posted at that time, a palladar is something of a unique institution in modern day Cuba.  For the most part, since the early 1960s, private ownership was pretty much banned.  People's properties and their businesses were all "nationalized" - in other words: the Cuban government pretty much owns everything.  (The ban on private ownership was one of the factors that drove so many Cubans - Jewish and non-Jewish - to flee Cuba around the period of "nationalization.")  It is not hard to imagine how bitter those Cuban emigrants must have felt - in watching their hard-earned resources snatched away from them.  This bitterness informs much of the anti-Castro politics of the Cuban-American community to this day.

Alas, I digress.

Suffice it to say: God bless capitalism!  Because our meal at the palladar (a privately owned restaurant) was AMAZING!  Maybe the best of the whole trip.  And how could it not have been, with a spot right on the ocean.  (I was too distracted in setting up for Havdalah - I didn't take any pictures of the view...we'll have to rely on the other members of the group for that.)

I did manage to get a picture of a unique Cuban dish that we ate for the first time that night:

The dish has a strange name: "Moors and Christians".  It's a take on the traditional black beans and rice.  Typically in Cuba, the black beans and rice are cooked and served separately.  But in "Moors and Christians" the beans and rice are cooked together. Why the bizarre name?  It's a racial reference to darker skinned Moors and lighter skinned Christians from Spanish history of several hundred years ago.  I loved the dish - both because it tasted good, and because it's a metaphor for the post-racial world that we are all striving for today.

After dinner was over, I was part of the group that went to the Nacional to hear some great music.  It was incredible!!!  A real highlight of the trip.  I know the video quality isn't that great, but the audio is pristine.  Here's a small sample of what we heard:

Day Five had us leaving Havana for Cienfuegos, situated on southern tip of the center of the Island, about a four hour drive.

In the 1920s, Cienfuegos was home to a major botanical garden that established on the Island by Harvard University.  After the Revolution, the Cuban government took the gardens over, where they continue to be maintained today:

Later on Sunday, we ventured to the home of Rebecca Langus, president of the small Cienfuegos Jewish community.   Outside of Havana, the Jewish population in Cuba is very small.  And in Cienfuegos, they do not have their own building, and so they meet weekly in Rebecca's home.  (The community is about 20 families.)

It was so inspirational to see the work that they are doing, with such different resources than the communities in Havana!  They maintain their own Jewish library.  They have weekly Shabbat services in Hebrew (even though they have very minimal Hebrew knowledge).  Working with tutors from Havana and the Joint, they prepare 3-4 students/year for Bar Mitzvah (celebrated at the Patronato in Havana).

In addition to presenting the appreciated tzedakah and supplies that we had brought, we also had the chance to mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) with Rebecca and her family.  As we marked the occasion, she shared movingly about how her son and several other community members were taking part in this year's March of the Living (with some Solel members as well!).  Some pictures of our visit there:

We were struck by Rebecca's warm hospitality  - her willingness to open her home to a group of strangers...It provided us with one of the few glimpses we got during the trip into the real, everyday lives of Cuban Jews. 

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About Me

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