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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

Jews in Cuba -  A Tourist Trap?

Posted February 13, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

On Dec. 2, 2003, NewsMax.com published a dispatch from the Presbyterian News Service in Havana. It was in relation to the Jews’ situation in Cuba today. I read this piece, titled “Castro Decimated Cuba’s Slowly Rebounding Jewish Community,” and had problems with its veracity.

I shared my worries with a fellow writer. He replied, “The article looks like an attempt to make the regime look like it’s moving in a less repressive direction.”

It is known that many U.S. Protestant churches are part of the pro-Castro support network. The National Council of Churches (NCC) and Pastors for Peace are prime examples. But I still have to ask: Why are the Presbyterians in Cuba publishing this dispatch about Jews in Cuba?

Adela Dworin is referred to in the dispatch as the “vice president of the Jewish community in Havana” and also is called an “unofficial historian.” She is quoted as saying, “We didn’t have a minyan [quorum for praying as a community], even for the high holidays. But we never closed the synagogue.”

A source who made a video documentary on the synagogues of Havana in 1986 said that Adela Dworin is a Castro “government functionary posing as a Jewess.” The source adds, “Interesting that no one mentions [in this article] the bar that sells alcohol (to all and sundry from the street) in the Shevet Achim synagogue in old Havana.”

In order to diminish the impact of the decimation of the Jewish population in Cuba, this article says “The Jewish population is still a far cry from pre-revolution levels, when it peaked at about 15,000; but Jewish communal life has undergone a revival nationwide the past 12 years.”

However, according to other records and the 1991 Puebla Institute’s “Castro’s War on Religion,” pg. 16, the count was closer to 30,000 in pre-Castro Cuba.

As a conciliatory example of the change in attitude toward religion by the Castro regime the article says, “After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Cuban National Assembly passed a law in November 1991 allowing Cubans to be members of the Communist Party and to participate in religious associations.”

While sounding promising on the surface, the actual purpose of the law was to infiltrate, intimidate and control religious groups, while affording an appearance of reducing its limitations to outsiders.

And to reaffirm this change, the dispatch proclaimed, “The following year, the Constitution was changed to define Cuba not as an ‘atheistic’ state but a ‘secular’ one. These changes, and the 1998 visit to Havana by Pope John Paul II, produced a shift in the country’s view of religion. Christian and Jewish communities began growing exponentially as the government relaxed its grip of all faiths were quick to take advantage of the opportunity to attend services and study religion.”

The reality was that by 1998 Castro’s regime could afford to relax because the religions were infiltrated and under the control of State Security (Castro’s equivalent of Hitler’s SS).

The article talks about the Cuban National Assembly, the 1976 Cuban Communist Constitution and the passing of laws as if they all used some sort of democratic process as in the U.S. This is misleading at best, since everything in Cuba is done according to the wishes and whims of one man who is at the top of an illegitimate Mafia-type regime. Nothing there is determined by anything remotely resembling a democratic process.

And then the article gives us the official story that Castro wants spread to the gullible Americans via the voice of his official. “The community is alive, that is the most important [thing],” Dworin said. “We have a Jewish community which is proud to be Jewish. Now you can see young people, you can see children coming to the synagogue.” Note the key word “children” to appeal to the Jewish feelings in America. They want their dollars, you know.

And now we arrive at the real objective of this misleading article, which is to encourage foreign travel to Cuba.

Here it comes: “Today, Jewish visitors to Cuba from the United States, Canada and elsewhere, are finding a Jewish community coming back to life.

“‘I think it’s wonderful,’ said Renee Sleischer, of Cleveland, OH, who was visiting the Patronato with a group from a Jewish Community Center in Chicago, IL. ‘It’s absolutely fabulous. I guess they feel they really are family here at the synagogue. The people, it brings them all together and gives them charity and hope and love.’

“Like other visitors, the Chicago group donated items such as medicines, eyeglasses and mix for making potato pancakes or latkes (pronounced LOT-ka) to be used at the synagogue during next month’s celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

“However, Cuba’s resurgent Jewish community still faces problems, and relies on many outside organizations for assistance.” That’s money money money, which always ends up in Castro’s pockets since his Mafia-type regime controls all retail stores on the island.

Then the article gets daring by proclaiming, “There is little to no anti-Semitism in Cuba.” This is really outrageous. The record clearly shows otherwise; just take a look at anti-Israel and anti-Jew propaganda in Cuba’s official newspapers that has been ongoing for decades and continues today.

The article continues, “Organizations that meet regularly there include local affiliates of Hadassah and B’nai B’rith.” Sadly, the B’nai B’rith is known for its deafening silence about the abuses against the Jewish community in Cuba as well as the violations of human rights under Castro. Just read some of the articles by Myles Kantor about this organization. [See, for instance, “The B’nai B’rith and Cuba: A Crawl Toward Conscience.”]

The article treats us to more official, heart-warming stories from Dworin designed to get the coveted dollars from your pockets to Castro’s. “We also have a senior citizens’ group, a youth group, and even a handicapped group,” Dworin said of Bet Shalom and the Patronato.

“Patronato officials are planning a Hanukkah party next month, and a Purim party is scheduled during March.” Hurry up with your reservations! Violate the travel ban. Do it though Mexico, Bermuda or Canada. Cuban officials will not stamp your passports to laugh at American laws.

“The B’nai B’rith Maimonides Lodge in Cuba, with 50 members, celebrated its 60th anniversary in May.” Gullible Americans, get more reservations for May fun! Spend more money and take advantage of Castro’s pervasive “secret” industry and enjoy sex with adolescent prostitutes (boys and girls) as a side item.

Proudly this article reveals, “Famous visitors to the Patronato have included Fidel Castro himself.” And “His image is featured in photos taken during the 1998 Hanukkah party, which adorn the wall outside the sanctuary at Bet Shalom.”

I pause and think, why are they proudly hanging photos of the tyrant who decimated their own community and desecrated a Jewish community center in 1973 by giving it to Arafat’s PLO for their office in Havana? No real Jewish synagogue would hang proudly a photo of Hitler in their building!

Castro has a well-documented record of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activities, which I am not going to enumerate because I have mentioned them in prior articles that you can find in NewsMax archives.

So the fact that his photo is displayed at the Patronato is very revealing indeed. I question the independence of the Jewish community in Havana under the tutelage of Adela Dworin and other officials like her.

According to this article, other photos of fools useful to the regime, such as the Hollywood director Steven Spielberg when he “visited the synagogue and the Ashkenazi cemetery in Havana,” are displayed for the visitors to see to reinforce their beliefs and moral support. “If he came, it is all right for me to be here.”

And as a non-subliminal appeal for donations during the holidays – Castro wants your dollars – the article continues: “The Tzedakah Fund, another B’nai B’rith project, supplements the limited incomes of elderly and retired members of the Jewish community, who receive a $10 monthly benefit and a small food ration from the government. The fund adds another $10 per month.”

On top of all this, we are expected to believe that the Presbyterian organization that issued this dispatch has solid evidence of the “increasing” of Judaism in Cuba, saying, “Additional services are added frequently as the island’s Jewish population continues to increase.”

Come on, you American Jews! Jump on the bandwagon and get down here and join in the resurgence of Cuban Judaism! But most important, don’t forget to bring your dollars.

The article closes by quoting a 13-year-old Cuban boy, Moises Rodriguez, a self-proclaimed Jew attending the synagogue. “It’s a process, a complicated process,” Rodriguez said of the revival of Cuba’s Jewish community. “All day, more people come to the synagogue. All week, all the time.” Note the upbeat word “revival.”

People in Cuba today are not what they used to be. They have been changed by the realities of the system. The most important thing for them is how they are going to survive from day to day under Castro’s boot.

The survival instinct dictates that they must participate in Castro’s rallies, cheering, applauding and pretending to love the oppressing tyrant and also pretending to be Jewish or a Presbyterian in order to get handouts. The churches or synagogues are a source of needed items, and many go for this reason alone.

It is not what this article misleadingly calls “revival.” The most accurate word is survival.

© 2004 ABIP

Agustin Blazquez is producer/director of the documentaries “COVERING CUBA,” “CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles,” “COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation” and “COVERING CUBA 3: Elian” (presented at the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival) and the upcoming “COVERING CUBA 4: The Rats Below.”

He is author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book “COVERING AND DISCOVERING” and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell “THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra.”

Member Comments

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On July 12, 2011, gyuri wrote:

Re: “desecrated a Jewish community center in 1973 by giving it to Arafat’s PLO for their office in Havana.”

You cannot desecrate a secular institution. The place was the very secular Union Sionista de Cuba, located at 260 Paseo de Marti (Prado), Havana where Cuban Zionist activities were centered from the 1920’s and Zionist youth movements, like Hanoar Hatzioni met until the early 1960’s.

The likely reason for the closing was Cuba’s desire in becoming the leader of the non-aligned nations and the severance of diplomatic relations with Israel. Although informally it has been communicated that it reflected Cuban irritation with the fact that Israel voted and votes consistently on the side of the U.S. and against Cuba on every issue debated by the United Nations.