Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cuba: Why Jews Lived But Left This Island Country

Nadene Goldfoot                                          
Cuba, island of West Indies

 Cuba is south of both the U.S
. state of Florida and the Bahamas Havana is the largest city and capital.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, with an area of 109,884 square kilometres (42,426 sq mi), and the second-most populous after 
Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants.  I note that Israel is 8,000 sq miles with 7.7 million inhabitants. 

    Going back to 1492 when Columbus, an Italian getting a loan from the Spanish royalty,  sailed the ocean with his ships; Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria,  and found a New World which would be called America, the Spanish Inquisition was in full force.  It forced many of the Jews of Spain to leave as they could not practice their religion there anymore as Spain's  laws did not continue any freedom of religion. Columbus himself could have some genes of Jews who had been taken to Rome as slaves in 70CE.   It's possible that even Columbus could have been a Marrano.  He wrote to his son in Hebrew.  He had Marranos on board working for him who were anxious to leave Spain. 

 Between those years of 1391 to 1415,  as many as 200,000 ( half the Jewish population) chose conversion and became New Christians or Conversos. Of these, many continued to practice Judaism in secret while paying lip service to the Church. They became known by the Christians as Marranos. The Jews never used the term Marrano themselves although some knew of it. The Jews referred to themselves as anusim "those who were forced to convert". The Spanish Inquisition was introduced into Spain in 1480 and began a horrid campaign of repression, continuing into 1492.  Marranos left Spain at this time and many settled in Cuba.  

 During four separate trips that started with the one in 1492, Columbus landed on various Caribbean islands that are now the Bahamas as well as the island later called Hispaniola. Before sighting Hispaniola, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China. 

 It is popular lore that three Jewish men arrived after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Some believe that these Jews traveled to Cuba with Columbus: Luis de Torres on the Santa Maria, Juan de Cabrera on La Pinta, and Rodrigo de Triana on La Nina. All three were Marranos, or forced Jewish converts to Catholicism.  Francisco Gomez de Leon, a Jew, was put on trial during the Inquisition in Havana. He was later executed in Cartagena and his large fortune was confiscated.                                                                            

By the 16th Century, Jews who had remained in Spain but continued to practice Judaism secretly, even though they had gone through baptism because they had been forced to, not by their own volition,  were called a nasty name; Marranos, meaning SWINE.  They were called this because according to Judaism, they were not to eat these animals.  These "Marranos" had grown as a group in Spain that after the 1391 massacres and the Dominican campaigning at the beginning of the 15th century, they had become very prominent socially, economically, and politically.

At the end of the 19th century, more Jews moved to Cube from the USA, mainly from Florida.  In 1904, they established the United Hebrew Congregation.  In 1914, when WWI started,  The Union Hebrea Shevet Ahim Synagogue, made up of Sephardim from Turkey, Syria and Mexico was founded.  Amazingly, the Inquisition had followed Jews and Marranos to Mexico after these past 400 years!

After World War I (1914-1917) Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe.  By 1924, Cuba had 24,000 Jews,  and after 1933, they were coming in from Germany and Austria.  Many had intended to proceed to the United States after procuring passports.  Jewish immigration was almost completely stopped in 1947.

 On May 13, 1939,  an immigrant ship, SS St Louis with  wanted to stop in Cuba from Germany loaded with 900  fleeing Jews and were not allowed.  They had to return from whence they came from and face death instead of freedom.
In 1959, Cuba had 8,000 to 10,000 Jews of whom 90% lived in Havana.  This is when Fidel Castro became Prime Minister, and ruled for the next 47 years as that and then as President.  Considerable emigration followed the establishment of the Castro regime. This was when other Cubans were also leaving and heading for the USA.   Mainly, this was motivated by the new economic policy of Communism.  The Jewish population in 1990 was 1,000; nearly all in Havana.

Adath Israel is the only Orthodox synagogue remaining in Cuba. In December 2006, the Cuban Jewish community celebrated its 100th anniversary. 
"In February 2007 The New York Times estimated that there are about 1,500 known Jews living in Cuba, most of them (about 1,100) living in Havana. Cuba has one kosher butcher shop on the entire island. For a time it had no rabbi, but by 2007, one was based in a Havana synagogue. He often encourages visiting Jews to give Tzedakah (charity) for the Jewish Cubans and for Israel.  Alan Gross traveled to Cuba to help the small Jewish community, but he was detained in Cuba from 2009 to 2014. Some Jewish Americans originally from Cuba are also fierce critics of the Cuban regime like Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and academic Ruth Behar. Israel also continues to have an embargo against Cuba.                                                 
On the freshly painted, salmon-colored walls of Alberto and Rebeca Meshulam’s apartment, two portraits of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, frame the entranceway leading to a wide, airy vestibule.

 "There are reasons Chabad, an orthodox movement,  doesn’t have a house of its own, stemming from a years-long dispute with Cuba’s 1,500-member Jewish community. Indeed, over the past eight years, relations between Chabad, the haredi Orthodox outreach organization, and Cuban Jewish leadership have deteriorated to the point where Lubavitch emissaries will not step foot in the city’s Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel.  Meanwhile, Havana’s Conservative Beth Shalom, the largest synagogue in Cuba, decries Chabad’s ongoing presence here as illegal.
As I read this information, I was very surprised, but the difficulty could be that Chabad is Ashkenazi, and Cuba's Jews follow Sephardi Judaism.  I wonder how Havana's Paronato Synagogue is doing.  It  is a very beautiful synagogue.  You can see it on my last resource listed of synagogues. Several hundred people had immigrated to Israel.   

So in Cuba, a country without a permanent Chabad outpost, the Meshulams — he’s a retired physician, she’s a homemaker — are proud supporters. Their home in this city’s tranquil Nuevo Vedado neighborhood has become a de facto headquarters for the handful of mostly Latin American Lubavitch emissaries who visit the island on major Jewish holidays.                                                  

There are Cubans who could be carrying some genes from some of these Marranos or today's name of Anusim.  Wouldn't they be surprised to find a whole new history awaiting their family.  

Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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