Tuesday, February 23, 2010
History of Cuban Jewish community discussed. "Sun Sentinel"
Jewish community in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.
Margalit Bejarano discusses "The Story of Cuban Jewry Â— Myth and Reality: The 1950s, the Revolution and the History of the Jews under Castro," at the University of Miami's Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies. (Janeris Marte, FPG / February 16, 2010)
South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
History of Cuban Jewish community discussed
By Sergio Carmona, Staff Writer
10:31 AM EST, February 23, 2010
Margalit Bejarano, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, studied the history of the Jewish Community of Cuba when she received her Ph.D. Bejarano received praise from local Jewbans when she discussed this history in "The Story of Cuban Jewry — Myth and Reality: The 1950s, the Revolution and the History of the Jews under Castro," recently at the University of Miami's Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies.
"I'm almost used to this," Bejarano, who has spoken on the subject before, said when asked regarding the praise. "I know the history is very important to them [Cubans] and they are so identified with the life of Cuba."
During the presentation, Bejarano said that the history of Cuban Jews can be divided into three different chapters — Cuban Jewry until the revolution, the history of Cuban Jews living in Miami, and the Jews who remained in Cuba who also continued Jewish life there. She mentioned that Jews in Cuba were seen as a minority and discriminated until the development of the State of Israel when their position in the island was legitimized since they had a homeland. She said that their situation improved considerably in the 1950s and that Zionism was important to them although it was only thought as a movement of fundraising.
"Zionism in Cuba was not a movement that tried to educate people to immigrate to Israel and only a very small number of Cuban Jews made aliyah," she said.Bejarano said that following the revolution, most Cuban Jews moved to Miami. She said that they saw themselves as the authentic continuation of the life of Cuban Jews.
Marcos Kerbel, a North Miami resident who came to the United States on the Pedro Pan Exodus and who attended the discussion, said that learning about the revolution is always interesting and important.
"Even though this [Revolution] occurred 50 years ago it's still being talked about today," he said. "These are tremendous experiences and for many of us it's a lifelong impact on ourselves and our family."
Bejarano said the Jews who remained in Cuba were treated as individuals and exactly the same as any other Cubans but received special privileges to continue their religion despite the dictatorship being an atheist one. She said that the government didn't close synagogues unless the community asked them to do, that Jewish students were permitted to study in a Jewish school, and that Jews were able to keep kosher. Bejarano said that Fidel Castro wanted to show the world that Cuba wasn't an anti-Semitic country.
"In Cuba, there was a distinction — you can be anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic," she said. "In other countries, they use anti-Zionism to conceal their anti-Semitism. In Cuba it was never like this. There was always a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism."
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