Jewish Detroit Meets Jewish Cuba

May 17, 2013 | Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit

Twenty-one Detroit Jewish community leaders and professionals had an eye-opening four-day experience in a recent visit to the small, but vibrant Cuban Jewish community in Havana. The purpose was to give participants a face-to-face glimpse of the work the Federation does for Jewish communities around the world.

The mission was organized by the Federation in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Federation international beneficiary that is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization.

“The resurgence of the Jewish community in Cuba is a shining example of Jews reaching out to Jews, wherever in the world there is need,” explains Penny Blumenstein, President of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – (JDC). “As the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization, the JDC has been an active presence in Cuba for more than twenty years, working as a lifeline to the community in partnership with Federations across our nation. With our continued support, Jewish teens prepare for bar and bat mitzvah through study programs, families gather weekly to share in Shabbat services and a communal dinner and rabbis from Latin America make regular visits to the island to teach, to celebrate holidays and to perform weddings.”

Although the U.S. government embargo forbids U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, the humanitarian focus of the mission allowed Detroit travelers to bypass the restrictions on tourism. Federation’s trip entailed a full schedule of religious activities, as well as the delivery of medications and supplies to restock the community pharmacy.  Additionally, the Detroit group donated soccer equipment for the team that will compete in the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem in July. 

Reflecting on the visit, Federation Chief Executive Officer Scott Kaufman observes, “To think that this was a Jewish community about to disappear from the map – with 95% of its population having fled the country following the revolution in 1959 – it’s remarkable to see Jewish Cuba’s renewal today.   Proud to be Cuban, proud to be Jewish, clearly the community has taken root again and is making a life.”  

“Our mission to Cuba was truly a unique opportunity,” stated Lowell Salesin, who co-chaired the mission along with Matthew Lester.  Cuba provided a stark backdrop for an experienced group of our local Jewish leaders to witness a JDC success story firsthand. It is apparent that the life of our brothers and sisters in Cuba is enhanced in countless ways by their connection to Judaism. Despite their existence within a regressive society, Jewish life seems to prosper. This mission was a tremendous success and confirmed for me the importance of our Jewish Federation’s campaign both here and abroad.”

(Full story in the June issue of myJewishDetroit, coming May 30.)


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