Cuban Jewish group on first visit to Israel
BY CLIFF CHURGIN

JERUSALEM - The first group of Cuban Jews to visit Jerusalem under Israel's Birthright program traveled to the Western Wall on Thursday as part of an effort to strengthen ties between Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

The Birthright program, started three years ago, arranges 10-day tours for Jews from countries around the world. The Cuban government has allowed Jewish Cubans to go to Israel in the past for conferences and conventions, but this was the first time that a Birthright tour was approved, said Margalit Bejarano, a Cuba expert at Hebrew University.

William Miller, 27, an electronics instructor from Havana, said he got the idea for the visit and sent an e-mail to Birthright to try to set it up.

'All along we knew about Birthright and thought, `Why don't Cuban Jews take part?' ''

Birthright asked Canadian Jewish groups to help organize the trip. Lorne Klemensberg of the Canada Israel Experience said the Canadian and Cuban Jewish communities have close ties. A Canadian Jewish delegation agreed to sponsor the Cuban delegation.

It took the Cuban group a month to get government permission for eight young Cuban Jews to make the trip. Klemensberg said they had to promise to return to Cuba.

Cuba's Jewish community started with a very small migration of Jews from the United States to Cuba after the Spanish-American war. Then more Jews immigrated to Cuba from Turkey. In the 1920s and 1930s, Jews fleeing persecution arrived in Cuba. By 1959 the community had grown to 15,000. After Fidel Castro came to power many fled. About 1,200 Jews live in Cuba today.

Castro broke off relations with Israel in 1973.

Some members of the delegation were determined to bolster Cuban's sympathy for Israel.

''We will go back to Cuba with a feeling, a knowledge, that we can transmit to other Cubans,'' said María Luisa Zayán, a 21-year-old journalism student at Havana University.

The group's visit to the Western Wall coincided with Tisha B'Av, the day Jews commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

As the group made its way to the wall, they stopped by the remains of the mansions destroyed along with the Second Temple. Their guide said feuding among Jewish groups during the time of the Second Temple helped fuel their destruction, emphasizing the need for unity today.

 

   
  Directory

News

Articles

Publications

 

 

 

  CUBAN JEWISH COMMUNITY  |  ORGANIZATIONS  |  COMMUNITY GROUPS
  PROJECTS
HOLIDAYS AND COMMEMORATIONS |  COMMUNITY LIFE 
  WHO HELP US  | GALLERY |  CUBA, AN ISLAND IN THE CARIBBEAN