By Fernando Espino, CHC Student Assistant
Following yesterday’s post featuring some of our Jewish-Cuban materials in honor of this High Holy Day of Yom Kippur, today we highlight a Jewish-Cuban voice that forms part of the Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project.
Israel Bichachi was born in Placetas, Las Villas on February 17, 1929, into a family of Sephardic Jews from Turkey. Bichachi was brought up speaking Spanish and raised as a Cuban first and foremost. “[In Cuba] you saw a bit of discrimination amongst the young people,” Bichachi explains. “But very little from adults.” While his family was not particularly religious, he remembers the difficulty they faced in finding places of worship, since Cuba had very few synagogues.
When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War broke out, Jews from across the world flocked to defend the young Israeli state. That same year, a young Israel Bichachi eagerly left his home to volunteer in Israel for a few months. “There were Jews from all over the world,” he remembers, speaking of the many volunteer corps he met in Israel. “If you spoke less than five languages, it was considered strange. I would tell people that I only spoke Spanish. Everyone was stunned.”
Bichachi’s return to Cuba was followed by the revolution, and he quickly found himself a target of the new regime. After three stints in a Cuban prison, he and his family knew they would have to go into exile. He spent a year in Israel working in a concrete factory, followed by a few years in New York before finally relocating to Miami. He worked primarily in the garment industry, first as a factory worker, and later as a salesman.
Bichachi would eventually open his own clothing shop, Bichachi Originals in Miami Shores in 1966. He also became a leader in the Jewish-Cuban community in Miami. In 1968, he co-founded Temple Moses, a Sephardic synagogue in Miami Beach, Florida.
Today, less than 2,000 Jews remain in Cuba. Like Bichachi and his family, the majority of this once-thriving community was forced into exile by the Castro regime. His story paints a portrait of the life of a Cuban Jew who, like so many of his countrymen, was forced to make a new life in a new home.
- Israel Bichachi was interviewed as part of the Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project in Miami Beach, FL on October 12, 2011. To learn more, watch Mr. Bichachi tell his life story.
- More from the Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project »