I just returned from an incredible mission to visit the Jewish community of Cuba—with Anshe Emet Memorial Temple, under the leadership of my good friend and colleague Rabbi Bennett Miller. Community is the correct term. While there are Jews scattered in several cities throughout Cuba (a total population approximating 1500 in an island country the size of England), they really consider themselves one community, and act toward one another that way. Cuba is a country of contrasts and contradictions, as is the Jewish community there. Bennett Miller aptly put it this way: “What you see is not always real. And what is real is not always what you see.” But there are two things I was reminded of during my visit: First, the Jewish spirit is indestructible no matter what odds it faces, and second, intermarriage (which is estimated at 95% in Cuba) can be a way to grow the community rather than diminish it.
Like many Hebrew words that are really value constructs, the word that went through my mind during the visit was bitachon. Much more than “security” or “insurance” (as modern Hebrew would have it), the word really means “indestructible”, and is used in reference to the Jewish people. In the case of the Jewish community of Cuba, there is no better word. While out-migration has undermined the community (from a population of 15,000 in pre-Castro Cuba), the community is now experiencing growth, primarily through those who are marrying into the Jewish community. And against all odds, there are those who are building community for those who are left—and for those on the outside who seek it.
Intermarriage is almost a given in Cuba, as is a welcome mat for those who marry in. While the Jewish community there can learn a lot from what we have to offer, this lesson is one that the Jewish community of Cuba can certainly teach us here in North America.
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