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You Are Here:  Home  >  Latin America  >  Cuba  >  Jews and Temples
Photos/Pictures of

Jews and Temples

Cuba

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Havana's Original Synagogue
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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.

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Arturo Lopez Levy: My Guide
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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.

Jewish Services

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 rabbis—instead, 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.

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Torah Reading (2)
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Torah Reading (1)
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The Men's Side
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The Women's Side
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Deep Prayer
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Hebrew/Spanish Prayer Book
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Touching the Torah
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Prayer
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Bet Shalom Synagogue
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