Fidel Castro…Ernesto “Che” Guevera…Jose Marti. These names are important in Cuban history, but they are not the names that were important to the group of us who traveled to Cuba in the winter of 2006 with an Adath Jeshurun mission led by Hazzan Howard Glantz and his wife Dayna. Instead, we will remember Rosa Behar Hazday, Adela Dworin, Jose Miller Fredman, David Tacher Romano, Julio Rodriguez Ely, Jacob Berezniak, Isaac Rousso Lilo, and the other members of Cuba’s Jewish community who warmly and enthusiastically welcomed us to their “Chosen Island.”
Our mission was to deliver medical supplies and personal items to the approximately 1500 remaining members of this community. We visited three congregations in Havana (Beth Sholom, Conservative; Adath Israel, Orthodox, and the Centro Hebreo, Sefardi) as well as two small communities in Santa Clara and Caibarien. All prescription medications were delivered to Beth Shalom (“The Patronato”), the largest congregation in Havana. There, the medications are catalogued and dispensed, as needed, to people in the community whether or not they are Jewish. Supplies are also distributed to more rural areas of the island. The Patronato pharmacy is run by Dr. Hazday, a specialist in Gastroenterology and President of the Cuban branch of Hadassah International. Another smaller pharmacy is maintained by Congregation Adath Israel.
In all cases our contingent of 42 was welcomed with gratitude and hospitality. We attended services, sang songs, shared Shabbat meals, recited kaddish at two Jewish cemeteries (each with a Holocaust memorial), presented gifts to a Bar Mitzvah boy, said farewell with best wishes to a young woman making aliyah to Israel, visited homes, heard a presentation from the president of the local B’nai Brith chapter, and participated in the life of this vibrant Jewish community. While our Jewish brothers and sisters in Cuba lack material wealth, they are rich in spirit and determination. They thanked us for remembering them and appreciated our willingness to make the people-to-people connection in spite of our governments’ disagreements.
We, in turn, are grateful for having had this opportunity, and we thank those who contributed medications and supplies for our mission.
Next year in Havana!
-Jim Walsh, who traveled with Adath Jeshurun Mission in Winter of 2006