Celebrating the Jewish-Cuban experience

By Amanda Moreno, CHC Projects Assistant and Fernando Espino, CHC Student Assistant

Books pertaining to the Jewish-Cuban experience available at the CHC.
Books pertaining to the Jewish-Cuban experience available at the CHC.

As our Jewish friends observe Yom Kippur this evening, we wish to recognize this special time in the Jewish faith by highlighting materials from our archive relating to the Jewish experience in Cuba.

The Jewish community in Cuba traces its history back centuries, stretching as far as the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. Popular legend states that three Jewish sailors were among Columbus’s crew, including Rodrigo de Triana, the first man to spot land on the North American continent. [1] During the colonial period, many Spaniards of Jewish descent immigrated to the island. In the late 19th century and through the 20th century, a number of Jews from Eastern Europe and the Middle East migrated to Cuba and established a permanent presence. In 1906, a group of Cuban Jews founded the island’s first synagogue, the United Hebrew Congregation.

We recently processed the Frederick Solomon Papers, which features the correspondence and writings of Dr. Frederick Solomon, an exiled Jewish rabbi active in Havana during the mid-20th century. Dr. Solomon headed the United Hebrew Congregation at Temple Beth Israel, the island’s first synagogue, located in Havana’s Vedado suburb and home to the Centro Macabeo de Cuba. [2] During his time at Temple Beth Israel, Dr. Solomon continued the tradition of conducting services in English, organizing religious services and authoring sermons for his congregation from 1953 to 1960.

A figure of Miami’s Jewish-Cuban exile community is Bernardo Benes. A lawyer, banker and civic activist, Benes played an integral role in the release of thousands of Cuban political prisoners in the infamous 1978 diálogo (dialogue) with Fidel Castro. [3] In 1991, we acquired the Bernardo Benes Papers, with materials added in 2008. This collection documents Dr. Benes’ personal and professional activities with organizations such as the Cuban Hebrew Circle of Miami and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Some books pertaining to the Jewish-Cuban experience available at the CHC are:

And in honor of the High Holy Days: L’Shanah Tovah, and have an easy fast!

Click thumbnails to enlarge.

[1] Rebecca Weiner, “Virtual Jewish History Tour: Cuba” (19 June 2012).
[2] Maritza Corrales Capestany, Presencia hebrea en Cuba (Mexico City: Ediciones Geo, 2003).
[3] Caroline Bettinger-López, Cuban Jewish Journeys: Searching For Identity, Home and History in Miami (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000).

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