[Ccs] FW: [CubanAmericanAlliance] Cuba tests Jews' faith
barrios at iac.usf.edu
Tue Apr 6 17:34:54 EDT 2004
>CUBA TESTS JEWS' FAITH
>One man embraced his religion
>as another abandoned his for Castro
>10:32 PM CDT on Sunday, April 4, 2004
>By TRACEY EATON / The Dallas Morning News
>HAVANA - Growing up in Cuba, they were typical Jewish kids.
>But as the years rolled by and they became men, one
>abandoned his faith for the sake of revolution while the
>other fought to save his Jewish community from the ravages
>Enrique Otulski is the rebel. The son of wealthy Jewish
>immigrants from Poland, he could have had an easy life.
>Instead, he risked everything and joined Fidel Castro's
>revolt in the 1950s.
>"Growing up, I saw barefoot men dressed in rags, women
>sleeping in the park. I didn't feel good about that.
>I couldn't live like the rich when most people lived in
>misery," said Mr. Otulski, now 74 and a top official in the
>José Miller followed a different path. He agreed
>revolutionary change was needed but feared communism would
>drive off the entire Jewish community.
>"By the 1980s, I'd go to the synagogue and there would be
>fewer and fewer people, sometimes just six, seven or eight.
>The feeling was that if we didn't do something, we'd
>disappear," said Mr. Miller, now 78, and president of
>Cuba's largest Jewish community center.
>The story of these two men as Passover approaches is part
>of a broader tale about the clash of Cuba's once-thriving
>Jewish community and the socialist government.
>For both sides, it's a story of survival.
>The Castro government suffered the collapse of its chief
>sponsor, the former Soviet Union, in 1991. But it lives on,
>despite economic troubles and the U.S. embargo, the
>toughest, longest-lasting sanctions ever imposed on any
>The Jewish community endured the loss of 94 percent of its
>followers after the socialist revolution. Many left after
>the government seized their businesses. Others left for
>family or personal reasons. Most sought refuge in the
>Those left behind
>Cuban Jews who stayed behind have had to depend on support
>from outside Cuba.
>For Passover, Jewish groups in Canada and other nations
>have shipped hundreds of pounds of kosher food and wine to
>Cuba for this week's celebration.
>The donations include tea, vegetable oil, chunky white tuna
>and grape wine from New York. There are also boxes of
>matzo, or hard crackers, representing the unleavened bread
>that Jews hurriedly baked under the desert sun while
>escaping slavery in Egypt.
>"You can find kosher food in Cuba. But getting these things
>from friends abroad lets us know that we haven't been
>abandoned," said Maritza Corrales, a Jewish historian in
>Havana. "The food we eat during Passover is something that
>Unity has helped Jews endure such horrific events as the
>In Cuba, Jews face a different challenge - co-existing with
>socialism. And that hasn't always been easy, said Mr.
>Otulski, who began drifting from the faith as a teenager.
>"The more I studied science, the more I abandoned my
>religion," he said. "I became a free thinker."
>His father, who owned a string of tanneries, had different
>ideas. He wanted his son to become a businessman and sent
>him to study at the University of Miami.
>Young Enrique Otulski graduated with an architectural
>engineering degree in 1954, and Shell Oil Co. hired him to
>design gas stations in Cuba. But the seed had been planted.
>Change was on Mr. Otulski's mind.
>His hero wasn't Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern
>Israel. It was José Martí, the father of Cuban
>Soon he met others, including Fidel Castro and
>Che Guevara, the late Argentine rebel, and decided
>to join the revolution.
>He kept his job at Shell while leading a secret life as
>Sierra, his nom de guerre.
>His exploits are described in his 2002 book, Vida
>Clandestina: My Life in the Cuban Revolution. In it, he
>describes how he ran an underground newspaper, raised money
>for weapons and helped launch attacks on urban guerrilla
>He and the other insurgents prevailed in 1959, and Cuba
>became a socialist worker's state. Religions were
>repressed. Most of the country's 15,000 Jews fled by 1963,
>including the only remaining rabbi.
>By the 1980s, only about 700 Jews were left. The country's
>few synagogues were plagued by termites, leaky roofs and
>broken windows. Some ran out of rent money and had to shut
>Jews were told they had to choose between their faith and
>the Communist Party. And those who weren't party members
>risked missing out on jobs and other opportunities.
>They also had to endure the government's extreme
>anti-Israel line. And they had to watch as Cuba sent
>thousands of soldiers to aid Syria in its attacks on Israel
>during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
>Some relief came in 1991 when the socialist government
>lifted its official policy of atheism and said Cubans could
>openly practice their religion.
>But Cuban Jews couldn't rebuild their shattered community
>on their own. They needed humanitarian aid then as they do
>now. Fellow Jews around the world send them everything from
>clothes and medicine to Shabbat candlesticks and prayer
>Appeal for help
>Mr. Miller led the way in getting that kind of help,
>appealing in the early '90s to the American Jewish Joint
>Distribution Committee in New York and other groups in the
>United States and other countries. The number of Cuban Jews
>has since more than doubled to about 1,500.
>"Cuba's Jewish population is very dependent on fellow Jews
>throughout the world because of its small size and
>resources," said Stanley Cohen, head of a relief project
>for Cuban Jews at the B'nai B'rith Center for Public Policy
>"With our help, Cuba's Jewish community has grown stronger.
>Young Jews have become more active in the community," he
>Mr. Cohen and other Jews have traveled frequently to Cuba
>to aid the community. The Cuban government welcomes such
>trips. And some state-run businesses now cater to Jewish
>One is Hotel Raquel, an elegant 25-room boutique hotel that
>opened in June.
>Its Garden of Eden restaurant in Old Havana serves
>everything from vegetable knishes to chicken soup with
>matzo balls. Rooms are named after Hannah, Sephora and
>other biblical characters. Chandeliers shaped like the Star
>of David hang above the gift shop. And the theme song from
>Schindler's List comes on when hotel operators put callers
>Just blocks away are remnants of the once bustling Jewish
>community. They include the 90-year-old Chevet Achim
>synagogue, Cuba's oldest, and Calle Acosta, also known as
>Jewish Street, once lined with kosher bakeries. Then
>there's the city's only kosher butcher shop, where many
>Jews buy meat on Tuesdays.
>City planners are considering highlighting some of these
>landmarks for tourists. But some critics say traveling to
>Cuba only props up a dictatorship. Agustín Blázquez, who
>produces documentaries critical of the socialist regime,
>recently described the Cuban government's message as this:
>"Come on, you American Jews! Jump on the bandwagon and get
>down here and join in the resurgence of Cuban Judaism. But
>most important, don't forget to bring your dollars!"
>There are other controversies, as well.
>Some Jews privately say that some Cubans pursue the faith -
>and conversion to Judaism - because they hope to leave the
>impoverished island and move to Israel.
>Indeed, more than 600 Cuban Jews have settled in Israel
>over the past decade, taking advantage of that country's
>open-door immigration policy to Jews.
>But Jewish leaders say the community continues to grow
>despite the departures.
>"A family of five might leave the country, but usually only
>one or two are Jewish," said Adela Dworin, vice president
>of the community center that Mr. Miller heads.
>Moises Asis, a South Florida writer and former longtime
>activist in Cuba's Jewish community, said he doesn't care
>whether Cubans convert to Judaism so they can leave.
>If they go to a "decent healthy spot where Fidel Castro's
>picture is not an object of veneration and where you can
>talk with freedom, all reasons are valid," said Mr. Asis,
>author of 14 books and hundreds of articles, some on the
>Government officials insist that there is religious freedom
>on the island. And Mr. Miller said he's confident young
>people will continue to invigorate the Jewish community.
>"Throughout history, we've shown our ability to survive,"
>Mr. Otulski, now vice minister of fisheries, said he's
>convinced that the revolution will also prevail and that
>the United States and Cuba will eventually learn to get
>"We will see the day, very soon I hope, when the United
>States government is formed by intelligent people who don't
>think only of themselves. When that happens, our two
>nations will be the best of friends."
>E-mail traceyeaton2004 at yahoo.com
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