Of Havana's 3 million residents, there are 1400 Jews, most being orthodox
or conservative. Just after the fall of the Soviet Union in the late
1980s, Castro proclaimed religious freedom for all. The government even
provides some financial support for religious organizations. For the Jewish
community here, most money comes from international Jewish organizations
from the United States and Europe.
Jews in Society
Building a Jewish family in Cuba isn't exactly traditional.
As Tache explains, "Intermarriage is the norm here.
There just aren't enough Jews to go around." In fact, Tache comes from
Jordan, and is originally from Arabic descent. One of the ironic
aspects to a secular state is the virtual indifference the people
have for organized religion. This has caused many Jews to either
abandon the faith altogether, or to embrace it more tightly. This may
be why there are few reform Jews here, and no reform synagogues.
(In fact, finding these synagogues are difficult, because most Cubans
don't even understand the word "Synagoga", the Spanish word. They've
never heard it before.
Getting married is also challenging for Jews here. First and foremost,
you fall in love (or think you do, a confusing state that knows no
political borders). Cubans rarely pay attention to one's religion in this
context. When two decide to get married, the religion of the male partner
is adopted, or whoever insists more vigorously. Most of the time, when you
marry someone who's Jewish, you convert. But, there are some benefits:
the Jewish community here is much closer and self-supporting than the
Catholic counterparts, if for no other reason than the population is so
small. It's simply easier to be.
The service that I photographed was an Orthodox service, which involves
separating the men and the women by a wall. Technically, Cuba has no
ordained rabbisinstead, they have people that know what to do and
are trained in conducting services. Here, the "Rabbi" conducts his service
almost entirely in Hebrew and Spanish, although most Jews are usually
fluent in English as well. It is only at the end of the service when the
rabbi walks the torah through the congregation, allowing everyone to touch
it, Are the women allowed to come over to the men's side. At the end of the
service, as with most religious rituals, there is a feast. In this case,
a few sandwiches and some potato pancakes.