ORT Chile Director visit to Cuba
by: Marcelo Lewkow.
Marcelo Lewkow, Director of ORT Chile recently paid a working
visit to ORT Cuba where he spent time with its director, William
Miller, exchanging ideas and experiences. In a moving first-person
account he tells of the important work ORT does for the active
Cuban Jewish community of 1,300 people.
Out there, it is a hot, humid, very typical
Monday afternoon in La Havana, Cuba, but in here, sitting
right next to me, the image of my late grandfather is smiling
and telling me in his warm Yiddish, "You see, Meier,
as I told you, no matter how far away you are, or how strange
the society you are visiting may be, there will be always
a synagogue, always a Yom Kippur, a Kol Nidrei , always a
fellow Jew, and you will always feel safe and at home".
On this occasion the strange society is the
tropical version of a revolutionary regime, in the very well
known island of Cuba.
This time, the synagogue is the Great Synagogue
Beth Shalom of El Vedado, La Havana, reopened and refurbished
to its simple yet touching beauty, by the joint efforts of
the international Jewish community, and the brave local leadership.
This time the fellow Jew who makes me feel
safe and at home is my colleague, William Miller, Director
of ORT Cuba.
I came to Havana to learn more about ORT's
important work in Cuba, and, on behalf of World ORT, to see
what assistance we could offer. But, as is the norm when ORT
is involved, at the end of my visit, I was in fact the one
who was helped.
Helped spiritually and touched emotionally
by the efforts of the Cuban Jewish community.
Helped in terms of my community experience
by seeing the mutual cooperation of ORT and so many international
Jewish organisations, working together and understanding the
precise needs of this very special community.
Helped in terms of my professional experience,
by seeing firsthand how such a small community organises important
social improvement projects such as providing free medication,
arranging for a Pesach movil to visit each and every lone
Jew on the Island to distribute Pesach food and prayers. In
terms of technical training ORT Cuba has built one of the
most outstanding technical training institutions in the country.
ORT plays a very important role in providing
technical education and it was my duty, while in Cuba, to
offer my assistance to improve this. After only a few days
in Le Havana however, I discovered that ORT Cuba has already
accomplished a huge amount. I also realised that under the
present circumstances in Cuba, even the smallest amount of
help could make such a difference.
I learnt so much from talking to ORT students
who demonstrated how important a role ORT plays in their lives:
"ORT trains me in 3D design and was in
fact the only non-governmental training institution to offer
this subject", explained a young engineer.
"I never imagined being able to use a
computer, but ORT is helping me cope with modern technology,
I never dreamed of understanding", enthused a grandfather
who participated in ORT activities 50 years ago when the local
Jewish community reached a peak of some 15,000 members.
"ORT gave me the opportunity to learn
computer literacy," I was told by a young fashion model.
"In my line of work we do not study such subjects and
without ORT I would never have been given this chance."
"Through ORT's Sunday classes in Judaism,
and well-stocked resource centre of Jewish educational materials
and software, we are enriching our Jewish knowledge. We are
being given the tools to teach Jewish topics in a more modern
and entertaining way," stated a teacher teaching Jewish
Studies at a JDC Sunday school.
At the end of my visit, I felt that the word
'communication' came out as a synthesis of the needs of the
Cuban Jewish community and ORT Cuba.
Too often, in our modern world globalization
puts sophisticated communication tools in the hands of disadvantaged
people all over the world. But more often than not the lack
of education, or of motivation, makes the investment a waste
of time, money and effort, leading to frustration and increased
I spent only a few days in La Havana. But
during that time I held long, warm, intellectually challenging
conversations with my colleague William; the president of
the Cuban Jewish community, Jose Miller; and the JDC representative
in Cuba, Nestor Szewach. I listened to ORT teachers and students
and was touched by their enthusiasm, their culture and education.
I can now say, in all honesty, that to help the tiny Jewish
communities of Cuba to communicate with each other and with
the outside Jewish world could mean a world of difference
or, shall I say, a World ORT of difference.