[Marxism] Jews enjoy new religious freedom under Castro

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun May 8 12:45:17 MDT 2005


May 8, 2005
Agence France Presse - 
Jews enjoy new religious freedom under Castro

HAVANA May 8

At the Beth Shalom synagogue in Havana, the Cuban flag flies next to that of

Israel, even though the two countries have had no diplomatic relations since

1973.

A bust of Jose Marti, a hero of Cuban independence, stands near the candles 
lit for Sabbath prayers. Even Fidel Castro went to one of the Cuban 
capital's three synagogues in 1999 in a sign of the emerging religious 
freedom in Castro's communist state.

The Jewish community of about 15,000 fell to about 1,000 after Castro's 1959

revolution declared this Caribbean island an atheist state. Now there are 
more than 900 people from 403 families in Havana and a few dozen more in the

provinces.

There has been a Jewish community here since the Spanish conquest. Expelled 
from Spain by the Catholic Inquisition, some Jews even took part in 
Christopher Columbus' expedition that discovered the New World.

But immigration took off toward the end of the 19th century with the arrival

of American Jews -- after the end of the American-Spanish war, some fleeing 
pogroms in Eastern Europe and some coming from the Dutch West Indies.

But after Castro's revolution, about 90 percent of the island's Jews fled.

Jose Miller, president of the Jewish community council, known as the 
'Patronato' told how Jews were mainly considered part of the rich middle 
classes whose land and goods were expropriated and nationalised by the 
communist government.

The Patronato has its headquarters in the Beth Shalom synagogue, the biggest

of the three in Havana.

With the revolution, "came a style of life and thought that did not favour 
religious practices at all," said Miller, a retired surgeon now in his 80s.

By the end of the 1980s, the Jews who remained believed they had no future, 
according to Miller who called it a time of "agony."

But since the middle of the 1990s, there has been a new spirit of openness 
toward religion and the faithful have returned to churchs and synagogues. In

1999, Castro went to the Vedado synagogue in Havana where most of Cuba's Jew

still live.

The Cuban and Israeli flags fly over the Patronato.

But help from the United States and Canada has been crucial for the 
community, particularly from B'nai Brith, the oldest of the Jewish 
non-government organisations, and the American Joint Distribution Committee,

the main US group that helps Jews outside the United States.

Thanks to funds from abroad, foreign religious teachers have also come to 
Cuba and the Shin Beth synagogue has been completely renovated.

"Now we are in a position where we can strengthen this rebirth and try to 
guarantee our future," said Miller, who insisted that none of the moves were

political.

In Cuba, he assured, "there is a social police that is not far from 
biblical."

The aid is crucial in a country where daily conditions are so difficult. A 
meal, provided by the foreign organisations, is served each Saturday in the 
community centre at the main synagogue.

There is also a special pharmacy, stocked by foreign Jews who take part in 
aid work organised by B'nai Brith. Three teams arrive every month, each 
staying for eight days. Each person in the group must bring between six and 
10 kilogrammes (13 and 22 pounds) of medicines, clothes or food. 








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