During the Temple B’nai Abraham mission to Cuba, said Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, who led the 40-person contingent, “our hosts treated us like fellow members of the family, respecting us and expecting respect from us.”
The Feb. 10-18 humanitarian mission was cochaired by Joni Cohen and congregation president Julie Silbermann. Traveling under the general religious license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the group followed an itinerary that focused on Jewish life but also included tours of Havana, a visit to a cigar factory, lectures on culture and history, and social time.
Each traveler was responsible for bringing 15 pounds of medicines and other health-related items to Cuba. The donated items were presented to several institutions, including a high-risk pregnancy clinic in the small city of Trinidad, a school, and three Jewish congregations.
“The Jews here are in a strange situation,” said Kulwin, who is fluent in Spanish. “They have no means to maintain communal life on their own and are thus dependent upon support from visitors like us and, especially, the ongoing involvement of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — funded by our own Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ gifts — which provides all sorts of monetary and programmatic assistance.”
The group celebrated erev Shabbat at the Patronato, the largest of Havana’s three synagogues. Some 200 people were at the service, including many tourists, with the B’nai Abraham visitors making up over 20 percent of the worshipers.
Silbermann said, “All those who joined us were so grateful to have this unique and amazing experience.”
In summing up the trip, Kulwin said, “We have worshipped with, celebrated Shabbat with, and simply been with fellow Jews who find meaning and fulfillment and joy in keeping our people alive and vibrant even in this most unexpected place.”