Jewish Life in Cuba:
A Visit to Havana
Thursday, January 16 – Monday, February 20, 2020
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE JEWS OF CUBA
Jews first came to Cuba because of the Spanish Inquisition and subsequent Expulsion. In Cuba, where the Inquisition was strong, it was very difficult to continue Jewish practices even in secret. Marranos -- or “New Christians” -- left for other locations in the New World or were absorbed into the general Spanish population of Cuba.
Cuba saw many waves of Jewish immigration after the Spanish-American War. During the 1920s, with the tightening of immigration quotas into the U.S.A., Jews, mainly from Turkey and Eastern Europe, settled all over the island.
In the 1930s, Cuban Jews participated in an active communal life and they published several newspapers in Yiddish and Spanish with diverse religious and political orientations. Cuba was the first country in the Americas to allow Jews fleeing persecution in Europe to enter, when other countries – notably the United States – refused. As the 1930s progressed, there were episodes of anti-Semitism, a new phenomenon in Cuba.
Anti-Semitism literally disappeared during W.W. II. After the war, there was a large influx of immigrants from Europe and by the 1950s, when Batista (the last American-supported dictator) ruled; a vibrant community of fifteen thousand Jews existed. Ashkenazim accounted for some three-quarters of the community with 75% lived in Havana and the rest in the rural provinces. However, after the Castro led revolution in 1959 and until 1961, over 90% of these Jews fled the country. By 1989, Cuba's practicing Jewish population was depleted to a low of 800 people or less. Although the Castro-led revolution was not directed against Jews, it destroyed the economic stability of Cuban Jewry, which was primarily middle-class private business oriented. The reason for the flight was not anti-Semitism, but the economic shift from capitalism to communism.
Communist Cuba maintained normal relations with Israel until the 1967 War when its foreign policy became firmly anti-Zionist. It joined the Third World, in 1973, in severing diplomatic ties but Aliyah which began at the time of the creation of the state of Israel and continued after the Communist Revolution did not end when the political relationship changed. In fact, there has been an increase in Aliyah since the renewal of religious life after 1991.
There are three synagogues in Havana with regular minyanim each Shabbat and on holidays at Conservative Ashkenazic and Sefardic synagogues and daily minyanim at the Orthodox shul. Synagoga Beth Shalom, at the Patronato in the Vedado Section, was built in the 1950s. Now, it is the cultural and religious center of Havana’s Jewish life The Sephardic community continues to practice its rituals at Centro Sefardi, a building that was constructed in Vedado area in the 1950 when its community had mostly moved from Habana Vieja where its first synagogue, Shevet Achim, remained with a small minyan until that old building was deemed structurally unsound.
Several years ago, the Patronato affiliated itself with the Conservative Movement. Since then, all communities except the Orthodox, Congregation Adath Israel, have also affiliated with the Conservative Movement.
Extracted and Edited from “A Short History of the
Jews of Cuba” on http://www.jewishcuba.org/
INTRODUCTION: THE FOCUS OF OUR VISIT
During our visit, we will focus on the Havana Jewish Cuban community. The itinerary is designed to facilitate interactions between the tour participants and the relatively small Jewish community that makes Havana its home. We would be remiss if we did not also experience some of the city’s cultural treasures and colorful daily life…. Cuba’s Fine Arts Museum, the San Jose Market, Ernest Hemingway’s House, the Morro Fortress and its world-famous connection to cigars and rum.
Thursday, January 16th (Day 1)
We will assist you in making flight reservations from your
Arrive to Havana. Meet with our tour guide and driver who
will accompany us throughout our journey. We will go
straight to the hotel for check in. There will be time to relax
before heading out to dinner.
After learning about the History of the Jewish Community of
Cuba and JDC's Programs, we will have our Welcome
Dinner at the Paladar Vistamar. A Paladar is a family-owned
restaurant and is a manifestation of a more liberal policy
Meal: Welcome Dinner
Overnight: Melia Cohiba, Havana
Friday, January 17th (Day 2)
After breakfast in the hotel, we will drive to Cuba’s Fine Arts
Museum, which houses a large collection of Cuban art
dating back to the 15th century, providing an artful view of
the influence in Cuba beginning with the Spanish
domination, all the way to the present political stage, as
represented by contemporary Cuban art.
Continue to a cigar and rum tasting, not only sample these
treats, but it will give you a sense of how important the
cigar industry is to Cuba.
Lunch will be at local Paladar.
Later in the afternoon we will visit the San Jose Market, the
largest arts and craft marketplace in Havana. A former
harbor warehouse restored by the Office of the City
Historian to facilitate an environmental structure where
craftsmen and artists can display their products. This is
Cuba's flea market and where private enterprise in Cuba
started. We will take vintage cars back to the hotel to
freshen-up before Shabbat.
We will then tour Patronato Synagogue and visit the Community Center, Sunday School and pharmacy. The Patronato features a full library, with an impressive collection of Jewish books and is a popular source of reference and education for Jews throughout Cuba. The pharmacy houses the JDC Cuban Jewish Relief Project, which along with other supporters, attempts to keep the shelves stocked with necessities. The visit includes a briefing by Adela Dworin.
We will stay for Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Patronato Synagogue.
Kiddush and Erev Shabbat Dinner with the Jewish
Community at the Patronato Synagogue.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Erev Shabbat Meal
Overnight: Melia Cohiba, Havana
Shabbat, January 18th (Day 3)
After breakfast at the hotel, we will visit the Sephardic
Hebrew Center, the only Sephardic synagogue in Havana
City, founded in 1954. Members hold Kabbalat Shabbat
services every week, Shacharit on Saturday mornings and
celebrate all Jewish festivals. The center also houses a
community Sunday school for adults as, well as a Hebrew
Teacher's school. We will also tour their Holocaust
After services, we will have lunch at the Sephardic
Center. Seniors from the community will be there. We
will then drive to Old Havana for a walking tour through the
city’s main squares or plazas: Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San
Francisco and Plaza de la Catedral, with its cobblestone
and surrounding 18th century buildings.
Late afternoon at leisure.
The evening is at leisure to enjoy the city’s culinary and
music scene. Your guide will give you suggestions.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Overnight: Melia Cohiba, Havana
Sunday, January 19th (Day 4)
After breakfast at the hotel, our first two stops are Ernest
Hemingway’s House and the famous La Floridita where he
would imbibe on a regular basis.
Our next stop is the Morro Fortress. Built initially in 1589 in
response to raids on Havana harbor, el Morro protected the
mouth of the harbor with a chain being strung out across
the water to the fort at La Punta. It provides a unique
panoramic view of the city.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we will proceed to
Fusterland, a neighborhood of colorful mosaics and
painted homes, encouraged, inspired and in some cases,
funded, by Jose Fuster, an artist from the neighborhood
who has found success outside of Cuba with his artwork. He
remains at home in Cuba and tries to “give back” to his old
After returning to the hotel, the late afternoon is at leisure.
The group will enjoy a Farewell Dinner together at a local
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Overnight: Melia Cohiba, Havana
Monday, January 20th (Day 5)
We will enjoy breakfast and then check-out of the hotel.
Drive to the airport for those flying on Gil Travel-arranged
flights. On the way, we will visit Revolution Square, home of
many of Castro’s lengthy speeches as well as a visit by the
Pope. There will be time for pictures.
This Itinerary is Subject to Change
THE TEAM IN CUBA
Osmel has been serving as a professional tour guide for the past 4 years. An English Teacher by profession, Osmel has served as an official translator for the Cuban Ministry of Culture. He has extensive experience working with groups coming mainly from the United States. For the last 2 years, Osmel has worked with Jewish groups and, therefore, he has gained additional knowledge on the Cuban Jewish community and its history.
William Miller will be joining the group periodically throughout the tour. He has served the Havana Jewish community in many roles including:
· Producer for the First Holocaust Memorial and Study Center. 2011 – 2018.
· COO, Jewish Cuba Connection INC. 2010 – 2018.
· Technology Education Program Manager, ORT National Director. 1999-2018.
· Executive Vice-President, Patronato -- Cuban Jewish Community, Havana, Cuba, 2006 – 2011, and Second Vice President, 2004-2006.
He is currently the Manager, World Caribbean Travel S.A. (Shalom CUBA). 2005 – 2018 and Director, Cuban Business Training Center (BTC). 2011 – 2018.
Moshe Margolin is the Director of Jewish Explorations.
Melia Cohiba, Havana
A TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence recipient, the Melia Cohiba has a prime location in the modern Vedado district. Modern rooms with spectacular views of the ocean, city and majestic Malecon ocean drive. Buffet, gourmet, Italian and grill restaurants. Habana Café with memorabilia evoking the 1950`s. Spacious and comfortable multipurpose rooms for meetings and banquets with capacity for up to 500 persons. Executive floors with Royal Service and Business center. Lobby bar opened 24 hours, piano bar, bar with live music and a Cuban cigar and rum sampling bar for connoisseurs.
Single Room Supplement
A $500 deposit is required upon Registration.
There is a minimum of 10 participants for this tour.
Touring indicated on itinerary.
Hotel accommodations at the Melia Cohiba.
Meals indicated on the itinerary.
Transportation in luxury motor coach
Services of a licensed guide & driver.
DOES NOT INLCUDE:
Alcohol at meals and at La Floridita.
Tips for guide and driver.
Donations to synagogues (discretionary).
Travel Insurance - Insurance can be purchased at:
For Travel and Registration-Related Questions:
Gil Travel Group
800-223-3855 X 239
For Program Questions:
Moshe Margolin, Director
This program is copyrighted by Adult Jewish Learning Programs LLC.
Travel services for Jewish Explorations