Excerpt from Virtual Jerusalem article
Copyrighted by the World Jewish Congress
During the Spanish colonial rule that lasted until 1898, very few Jews lived in Cuba, and nearly all of them were apostates or Jews from the Dutch Antilles, holding Dutch nationality. Jose Marti, the liberator of Cuba, enjoyed the support of the Jews of Jamaica, Texas and Florida, and American Jewish veterans of the Spanish American War settled in Cuba. In 1904 they founded a congregation. These Jews were later joined by Sephardim from Turkey who founded their own synagogue.
Cuba was a popular transit point for East European immigrants awaiting admission to the United States. Some of these Jews remained in Cuba. In the 1930's a central Jewish committee was created to represent all Jewish groups. The plight of the Havana-bound passengers stranded on the German liner St. Louis dramatized the tragedy of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, yet they were also denied admission to Cuba. In 1952 there were more than 12,000 Jews in Cuba; 75% lived in Havana and the rest in the rural provinces. At that time Ashkenazim accounted for some three-quarters of the community.
Cuban Jews participated in an active communal life and they published a number of newspapers in Yiddish and Spanish with diverse religious and political orientations. Although the Cuban revolution was not directed against Jews, it destroyed the economic stability of Cuban Jewry which was primarily middle class. The great majority of Cuban Jews, together with many of their non-Jewish countrymen, found sanctuary in Miami, Florida. Most of the remaining Jews in Cuba live in Havana.
Communal and Religious Life
The Casa de la Communidad Hebrea de Cuba is the Jewish communal organization. Four synagogues, two Sephardi and two Ashkenazi, continue to function. The Patronato Synagogue also maintains a kosher kitchen. The Jewish school closed in 1975, but the community maintains a Sunday school. Kosher food and ritual items are imported, primarily from Canada.The synagogue in Santiago de Cuba was rededicated in 1995 to serve 80 Jews in that city.
Communist Cuba maintained normal relations with Israel until 1973, when it joined the Third World in severing diplomatic ties. Since 1948, 661 Cuban Jews have immigrated to Israel.
Comision Coordinadora de las Sociedades
Reprinted with Permission of the World Jewish Congress.