Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cuba Part III

We recently had a fascinating presentation by the Joint Distribution Committee, often referred to simply as "The Joint."  The JDC, whose website is The Joint Distribution Committee is a major philanthropic organization that supports Jews and Jewish communities throughout the world.  They has an especially strong presence in the countries that made up the former Soviet Union as well as in many Latin American countries as well.  They also work in Africa, Asia, Israel and many other locations around the world as well.

Needless to say, they also have had and continue to have a strong presence in Cuba.  One of their primary goals is to work to create self-sustaining Jewish communities.  Or as our presenter indicated, to be so successful that they work themselves out of a job.

According to their website the, "JDC in Cuba helps the community meet the basic food and medical needs of its most vulnerable.  They are also working to build a base of current and future leaders to sustain and grow the Jewish community.  This involves training and outreach as well as connecting Jewish visitors to the Jews of Cuba.

We very much saw this in action as we visited with the various Jewish communities of Cuba.  They have historians.  They have service leaders.  They have synagogues, cemeteries, and dedicated volunteers.  And yet, it is all so very new.

During the communist period, Communism was the official religion of Cuba.  As Ruth Behar wrote in her book, An Island Called Home, "Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, all mention of God, spirits, and saints disappeared from everyday speech.  But in 1991, the Cuban Communist Party decided to reverse its adherence to the Marxist dogma that religion was the opiate of the people .... By 1992, it was written into the Cuban constitution that the state was now secular rather than atheist" (Pg. 20).

So this resurgence, this resurrection (to borrow from another tradition), of the Jewish community is a recent endeavor.  The goal is of course for them to become self-sustaining.  In the meantime, I encourage you to go to Cuba and meet with our fellow Jews and learn from them their stories.  And to also by An Island Called home and read it.  For they truly do have so much to share.

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