TYPE: Letter
DIMENSIONS: 8 1/2 x 11 inches.
COMPONENTS: One page of text. There is a seal at bottom left from the 'Colegio Hebreo del C.I. - Bachillerato Habana'.
ITEM ID: 4572

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Cuban Judaica – Plantel del Centro Istaelita de Cuba – Colegio Hebreo in Havana

Year: 1955
Decade: 1950s
Century: 20th (1901-2000)
Notes: Document dated in Havana on March 25, 1955

Jewish Cubans, Cuban Jews, or Cubans of Jewish heritage, have lived in the nation of Cuba for centuries. Some Cubans trace Jewish ancestry to Marranos (converts to Christianity) who came as colonists, though few of these practice Judaism today. More than 24,000 Jewish persons lived in Cuba in 1924, and more immigrated to the country in the 1930s. But during and after the 1959 communist revolution, 94% of the Jewish left for the United States and other countries. In 2007 an estimated 1,500 known Jewish Cubans remained in the country, overwhelmingly located in Havana. Several hundred have since emigrated to Israel.

There was significant Jewish immigration to Cuba in the early 20th century: from Turkey following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and from eastern Europe, mainly Poland and Russia. By 1924 there were 24,000 Jewish persons in Cuba, with many working in its garment industry. In the 1930s, additional Jewish immigrants came from Europe as a result of Nazi and fascist persecution; some hoped to get to the United States but decided to stay in Cuba. In 1959 before the Revolution, an estimated 15,000 Jewish persons lived in Havana, where they had five synagogues. More Jewish Cubans lived outside the capital.

Nearly 95% of Jewish population left Cuba for the United States after the arrival of Fidel Castro and his implementation of a communist government. Additionally, between the years 1948 and 1997, 661 Cuban Jews immigrated to the State of Israel, and an additional 400 immigrated in 1991. As part of the middle class, some Jewish persons were made to serve in forced labor camps in the 1960s, but they were not targeted as an ethnic group by Castro’s government.

Several Jewish persons played prominent roles in the Revolution, including Fabio Grobart, Manuel (Stolik) Novigrod, and Enrique Oltuski.

Since the late 20th century, a large Jewish Cuban-American community has developed in South Florida. Modern Cuba has some new communities of Middle Eastern descent, including Jewish and Lebanese populations.

The Cuban Coordinating Commission, the official governmental unit for the Jewish Community, recognized 1,201 persons as Jewish in 2001 for the purpose of distributing Passover food.

In February 2007 The New York Times estimated that there are about 1,500 known Jewish persons living in Cuba, most of them (about 1,100) living in Havana. Cuba has one kosher butcher shop on the entire island. For a time it had no rabbi, but by 2007, one was based in a Havana synagogue. He often encourages visiting Jewish peoples to give Tzedakah (charity) for the Jewish Cubans and for Israel. Alan Gross traveled to Cuba to help the small Jewish community, but he was detained in Cuba from 2009 to 2014. Some Jewish Americans originally from Cuba are also fierce critics of the Cuban regime, such as Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Israel also continues to have an embargo against Cuba.

Adath Israel is the only Orthodox synagogue remaining in Cuba. In December 2006, the Cuban Jewish community celebrated its 100th anniversary.