Havdalah in Havana – Detroiters Discover Jewish Community of Cuba

July 7, 2015 | Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit

First the cigars, those world-famous cigars. Then the streets lined with classic American cars, gleaming and frozen in time. And then the dances— the Rumba, the Cha Cha, the Salsa, all born right there. After that, maybe the rum, or maybe the sandwiches.

But rarely when one thinks of Cuba does one first think of its Jewish community. For twelve young men from Detroit, however, this country’s small and historic, but diverse and growing, Jewish community will forever be what they first recall when remembering their recent trip to Cuba.

On May 28th, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit boarded a plane to Miami for a mission that would open the participants’ eyes to the legacy, the struggles and the exciting future of Jewish Cuba. Federation’s NEXTGen Detroit along with the JDC (Joint Distribution Committee), one of their largest overseas partners, designed the trip to reconnect participants to their Jewish heritage through a truly unique experience while creating powerful, personal connections and seeing first-hand the work that the Federation does for our Jewish communities around the world.

“I knew very little about the Cuban Jewish community before joining this mission,” said mission co-chair Matt Ran. “But being there and having conversations with their young Jewish leaders about the challenges that they face – and how they’re working together to overcome them and build Jewish life there –  made me realize that whether in Detroit or in Havana, we all have the same hopes and dreams for our communities’ futures.

Through its direct support of overseas organizations including JAFI, JDC and World ORT, the Detroit Federation assists Jews in over 80 countries around the world. For the upcoming 2015-16 year, the Detroit community has approved $8.65 million from its 2015 Annual Campaign and another $1.04 million from the Sue and Alan Kaufman Challenge Fund to be support Jews across the globe. But many of these efforts go untold or take a backseat to stories happening in our own local community or in Israel.

“Did you know that each Cuban receives a ration of only three-quarters of a pound of meat per month?” asks Miryam Roseznweig, Federation’s Senior Director of Community Development who also staffed the mission.

“But through our overseas allocations, Federation provides a chicken dinner every Shabbat for the entire Jewish community in Havana. It’s amazing to think that we had no idea that Federation did this. And there are countless stories like this — how Federation dollars are making a difference all over the world, every day. We just don’t hear them.”

Mission participants learned about the many educational, social and welfare programs developed by the JDC to assist the Jewish community in Cuba. They toured the community center, Sunday school and a pharmacy that houses the JDC Cuban Relief Project, which works to keep the shelves stocked with necessities.

“While the community in Cuba may be small, it’s diverse, and they are sharing their Jewish resources in a way that’s really inspiring,” said mission participant Chad Silver. “We visited the only mikvah and the only kosher butcher shop. On the day that we went to the Jewish cemetery and said Kaddish at the Memorial to the Holocaust, it really hit home that we are one people.”

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events
Feb
22

NEXTGen Detroit Couples Glass Blowing (Sold Out)

Did Valentine’s Day blow? Fear not, we’ve got a redo date that’s sure to blow your partner’s mind! Join NEXTGen Detroit Couples at Juice Box Studio in Detroit for an artsy-fartsy date night first — glass blowing! You and your main squeeze can each make your own paperweight with an expert glass blower while enjoying […]

Sign Up
Feb
25

NEXTGen Detroit Pride Presents Drag Queen BINGO

With Purim just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to dress up and be fabulous — so NEXTGen Detroit Pride is getting in the spirit with Drag Queen BINGO! First we’re brunching, then we’re breaking out our lucky charms and playing BINGO with some seriously glamorous pros. Come one come all, including allies! BINGO […]

Sign Up
Feb
27

TOV Read Detroit

Part I: Read Detroit Night! Tuesday, February 27th | 7:30pm at a Private Home in Huntington Woods Prior to our day at Bagley Elementary School, join us for: An intimate learning discussion about our community’s literacy gap. Critical conversation about what we can do to help bridge this divide. Please bring three new books to […]

Sign Up
Mar
3

EPIC 2018

We’re lighting up the night in an EPIC way for a bright Jewish future in Detroit! Join us as we set The Fillmore aglow for NEXTGen Detroit’s premiere annual fundraiser. EPIC is turning lucky number 7, and we’re going all out for this ultimate celebration of community and young Jewish philanthropy.

Sign Up