NC Archaeologist Has Find-Of-A-Lifetime, 3 Years In A Row
OUR ADVENTURES WITH THE JEWS OF CUBA
Shira Chapter Is Back From Cuba!
It was a most memorable adventure. We had a group of 32 people and visited three houses of worship. We brought many supplies with us, soap toothpaste, toothbrushes, over the counter medicines, adult diapers, plastic backed bed sheets as well as Hebrew books, Talesim, Yarmulkas, Haggadahs and many other items we were told about before we left the States. We divided our “goodies” into three packages, the largest package going to the Havana Congregation, which was the first one we saw. On Monday, February 3, we went to the Great Synagogue of Havana, Beth Shalom, a Conservative Synagogue, part of the Patronato of the Hebrew Community of Cuba. This large building houses both the Synagogue and the pharmacy which distributes medicines and other pharmaceutical supplies to all of the Shuls in Cuba.
We were met there by the dynamic Adela Dworin, the president of the Shul and the director of the entire Jewish community of Cuba. She was absolutely delightful, a modern day Golda Meir. She told us that there were only about 1500 Jews left in Cuba out of a once thriving Jewish Community of many thousands and that this Shul, Beth Shalom, serves about 1100 Jews. Most live in difficult circumstances. She told us in her inimitable joking fashion, that she has a PHD in Schnorring! Raising money for our people and keeping Judaism alive in Cuba is her life’s work. There wasn't a dry eye in the room after her plea for the Jewish Community of Cuba.
Cuba does not have one Rabbi in the entire country. A Rabbi visits from Santiago, Chile or from Rio De Janiero, Brazil two or three times a year to perform weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvot. We were guests for Friday night services which were very much like our own conservative services. Services were led by members of the Congregation, who appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. The prayer books had our familiar Hebrew prayers on the right side and the translations in Spanish on the left side, with some of the prayers transliterated into our alphabet. The Shul was filled with music and congregants singing from different parts of the temple. Most of the music was familiar to us though some of the prayers were recited in a different order than we were used to from our own Friday night services. What remained the same were the closing prayers, Aleinu, Mourners’ Kaddish and Adon Olam.
There were over three hundred people, most of whom were about thirty years old. After services, we enjoyed a dinner of roast chicken, yellow rice, salad, and ice cream for dessert. As you see, they do not have a way of being kosher in Cuba. We spoke to the community as these young men cleared the tables. They were a delight to behold.
Our second stop on the synagogue path was a small town called Santa Clara, where the shul we visited was in the center of a block of row houses in very poor condition. We didn’t even realize that this was a house of worship. We went in and were greeted by the leader of the congregation, David Tacher. All 32 of us were seated in a room with many Jewish artifacts, such as menorahs, Torah covers, dreidels, Shabbos candles, and walls of Hebrew books, and even a Torah!
David spoke to us in Spanish, and our Cuban guide was a wonderful interpreter, who picked up on his extreme emotion and conveyed it to us. We asked if any of their older people spoke Yiddish, and David told us that most of the Jewish community that is not in Havana were of Sephardic descent and if they could, they would have spoken Ladino. He told us about the difficulties they were having with their young people leaving Cuba. Once they are educated, they make Aliyah to Israel or they go to Canada, or anywhere else in the world that meets with their desires. There once were many thousands of Jews in Cuba. Now there are 1500. They do have a computer, though an old one, and they do get e-mail. He is very proud of his community of about 30 or so Jews and they hold services every Friday night. His theme was that Jews are Jews no matter where in the world they live. We must stick together as one people. He thanked us for taking the trouble to come to see him. Before we left Santa Clara, we gave monetary donations and some more of the everyday items we brought with us for the communities.
Our next visit was to the town of Cienfuegos, where we were invited into the home of Rebeca Langus Rodriguez, which housed the Comunidad Hebrea de Cienfuegos- Kadima.” Again, this community center was in the middle of a block of rundown row houses. We climbed up a flight of stairs into the living room of Rebeca’s apartment. There were a few silver artifacts, candle sticks, menorahs, a dreidel, and of course, a Torah! The walls were lined with Hebrew books. It was built like our old railroad flats of the lower east side. Past the living room was a bedroom and a bathroom, followed by a kitchen and dining room. and there were two small patios, front and back. She did have an old computer on a desk in the living room. We gave our “goodie bags” and monetary donations to Rebeca for her minute congregation and she was thrilled.
Once more, our talented Cuban guide translated for us. There are about 19 or 20 congregants involved in this Community Center. Five of them are children, and of these, four are in Israel now for the Maccabea games, including her own son, who won a gold medal for archery. She told us that they do Friday night services in Hebrew, although no one can read Hebrew. When questioned, she showed us a siddur with about eight pages with pieces of paper stuck in them in the appropriate places with transliterations for the most important prayers! She said that they sing songs that they remember from years back. We asked her to sing one, and after much coaxing, she began to chant, ”Oseh Shalom Bimromov, Hu Yaseh Shalom Aleynu.” At this point we all joined in with her, and she began to cry. She said that indeed, we are all one family, and Jews are Jews all over the world! That seems to be the mantra of all the Jews we met there.
When we returned to Havana, we visited the Jewish cemetery, where we saw the grave of the first person (a woman) buried there when it was first designated as a Jewish cemetery. That was in 1906, but it wasn't until 1910 that it was officially designated a Legal Jewish Cemetery. There is a Holocaust Memorial at this place as well. It was a very moving experience.
We received a lovely letter of thanks from Adela Dworin for our monetary donations as well as medicines, soaps, toothpaste, books and religious items that we brought with us to distribute to the Shuls in Cuba.
We were all so glad that we participated in this expedition. Kudos to Maria Diaz of World Travel International for arranging this fabulous tour of Jewish Cuba. Without her expertise, we would never have been able to visit the unusual smaller synagogues and other venues of Jewish import which were part of our journey. And thank you as well to Diana Stimmel, our President, and Judy Stone, our Fund-Raising V.P. for finding Maria and working so hard in conjunction with her. It was an experience that will remain forever in our memories!
Arlene Galler- Exec. V.P Shira Delray Hadassah
Winter in Natanya-is the best kept secret in Hadassah.
Winter in Natanya-has been in existence for 28 years, based in
Winter in Natanya-offers women and men to volunteer at Natanya
Winter in Natanya-offers the opportunity to study Ulpan.
Winter in Natanya-offers the opportunity to hear lectures,
Winter in Natanya-is greatly appreciated and held in high esteem
Winter in Natanya- COME-ENJOY-VOLUNTEER-LEARN-
Take a tour of the Synagogues of America by clicking here.
Beautiful photos of various windows and bimahs in synagogues around the United States, thanks to
A JEWISH TOUR OF SPAIN
Submitted by Sheila Steinberg, Chevra Chapter
I recently returned from a tour of Spain, where 500 years ago, on Tisha B'Av in 1492, the Jews were expelled by Isabella and Ferdinand. Surprisingly, in 2010, there is still (or again?) a Jewish presence in Spain - and tourists are flocking to partake of this feast for the eyes and the soul.
Two of the many cities we visited, Toledo and Cordoba, were home to the peaceful co-existence of 3 religions during what has been called "The Golden Age of Spain." Prior to the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand, Moors, Jews and Christians lived side-by-side, plying their trades and helping each other through the sharing of their expertise. The Moors were skilled architects and builders. They designed and built the synagogues for the Jews, and, to our delight, 3 of these synagogues, which at one time had been converted to churches, are now beautiful testaments to the perseverence of the Jewish people and our culture.
While they are now "museums," tour guides from all nations (even German-speaking) bring their groups through, explaining the history and the splendor of what were once thriving Sephardic communities.
There are two synagogues (Sinogogas) in Toledo. The first, just down the street from a bronze statue of Samuel Ha-Levi, at the entrance to the "Judios" or Jewish Quarter, is called the Transito. It is the larger of the two, and is a splendid example of the blend of Moorish and Jewish elements. There is a Women's Gallery upstairs and a Garden of Remembrance in the back. Judaica available at a shop nearby Transito
The Bimah wall Inside the Transito Synagogue
The 2nd synagogue, now called Santa Maria la Blanca, on Calle Reyes Catolicos, is much older and much smaller, but still in the Moorish style. The Jews owned the well in that area of the city, and everyone had to come to them to get water. Inside, there are pillars and mosaics, yet the layout is still reminiscent of any synagogue you might visit today.
Maimonides was born in Cordoba. There is a square named for him and his statue
The Sinogoga was converted to the Maria de la Blanca church in the early 1500's, but the Catholics did not change the original Moorish-Jewish architecture at all. There is Hebrew writing all over the walls here, and the original Torah niches are still in place.
The Bimah and niches for the Torahs are at the left. To the right is the front entrance from a courtyard where, in 1985, the Spanish people put up a plaque in honor of Maimonides' genius and great contributions to Cordoba.
In the entrance vestibule, there is a wooden staircase leading up to the women's gallery.
A Footnote: See "Jewish Communities" under Feature Articles for pictures and story about Ribadavia, another Spanish town to the Northwest, near Vigo.
Stay tuned for more pictures and stories from Jewish Hot Spots around the world! If you have something to contribute, please e-mail website coordinator Sheila at firstname.lastname@example.org.