The Last Minyan in Havana

Betty Heisler-Samuels

The Last Minyan in Havana is the story of the Jews of Cuba, from the years that preceded World War II until the coming of the Castro revolution. Based on a true story, the novel follows the life of an immigrant in Poland to find his fortune in Havana, his wonder at the lushness of his new tropical home, where he finds a new life, and the heartbreak of a tragedy that will mark him forever. The story is played out against the vibrant rhythm of the 40's and 50's when Hollywood Stars made Havana their playground, and the betrayal of Castro's revolution, which brought to an abrupt end democratic Cuba and its thriving Jewish community.

Betty Heisler-Samuels
was born in Cuba of Eastern European parents. After Castro's communist regime took over the island she fled with her family to Miami, where she graduated from the School of Journalism. She worked for the Spanish edition of The Miami Herald, Vanidades, and the Spanish editions of Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar before starting Donde Magazine, the first Spanish-language city magazine that was published in Miami. She now publishes Entre Nosotros, a Spanish-Jewish magazine that circulates in Florida and South America. The Last Minyan in Havana is her first novel.


Betty Heisler-Samuels

Her mother and father (foreground)
at a celebration in Havana, 1945

(Book excerpt, from pages 107-108)

Ironically, in spite of its best efforts, Cuba was destined to play a crucial role in the wave of refugees that had started to flood America shores. Geography had placed the small island in the crossroads of two worlds and history would throw thousands of displaced souls in its path, forcing it to deal with history in its own terms.

On July of 1936 American authorities proposed that Cuba, due to its strategic location open its doors to 100,000 German Jews, but the announcement aroused bitter antisemitic comments in the Cuban press and the proposal was quickly dropped. A year later the Joint Distribution Comittee created the Jewish Relief Committee in Havana to aid the steady stream of refugees that had started to to come to Cuba. Every day brought hundreds, sometimes as many as five hundred people to the small, understaffed office of the JDC looking for money to live on and information on how to get to the United States or bring relatives into Cuba. Haim, Gitel and Jacob now looked anxiously into ways to bring in the rest of the family when Haim got a letter from Hannah.

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