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Explore Cuban Jewish Heritage and Community with Cultural Cuba

Perfect for any size group and any configuration (individual families or Temple groups).
The full one-day itinerary, or elements of the itinerary, can be incorporated into a customized Cultural Cuba Support for the Cuban People Itinerary.

Cuba Havana Jewish Hotel Raquel History

We generally recommend a 4 – 5-night stay in Havana with one day dedicated to Jewish-focused explorations for travelers interested in Cuba’s Jewish history and culture, we are happy to assist and answer all questions about the itinerary options and the most significant current needs of the Jewish Community that would benefit most from your visit.

The Jewish Community has not been immune to the island’s political ups and downs. Cuba was merely a transit point for many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe on their way to the United States. The passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, which severely curtailed Jewish immigration to the United States, left thousands of Jewish immigrants now unable to proceed to the United States, and as a result they, settled permanently in Cuba.

Throughout the rest of the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of Jewish immigrants continued to enter Cuba from Europe, largely because of Nazi and fascist persecution. Gen. Fulgencio Batista took in some 6,000 Jewish diamond cutters and their families from Belgium and elsewhere who introduced the diamond polishing industry to Cuba during World War II, establishing 24 plants in one year. At one time, between 30 and 50 such facilities operated in Havana — turning the tropical Caribbean Island for a short time into a major world diamond-polishing center.

Many Jews were initially sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 under Fidel Castro, seeing the change in leadership as an opportunity to rid Cuba of the corruption that was associated with the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. As Castro’s plans became clear, Jewish Cubans became increasingly concerned because of their prior experience with religious intolerance associated with Leninist policies and Bolshevik Russia.

After the revolution in 1959, atheism was declared the official religion of the state and 95% of Cuba’s Jews – some 15,000 people – left the island, mostly for Miami. The new law caused many to stay away from synagogues in Havana, especially if they wished to become members of the Communist Party.

Things changed again in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban government rewrote its constitution and decided to define Cuba as a country without religion. This allowed the Jewish community to resume their practices freely.

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Today, some 1,200 Jews live in Cuba, most of them elderly. It is a tight-knit community characterized by many contrasts: Rich in spirit but bereft of essential services like quality health care and basic household goods.

There is only one kosher butcher shop in all of Cuba, located in Old Havana. Jews can go to the shop and claim their monthly ration of meat there, the equivalent of approx. 2 lbs. of kosher meat per family per month, as the food distribution system in Cuba requires.

Sunday School Beth Shalom Havana Cultural Cuba

Havana’s Jews often state they have never encountered antisemitism in Cuba. In fact, there is no sign of security outside or inside the Beth Shalom synagogue – no metal detectors and no guards. Beth Shalom runs a Sunday Hebrew school program in which some 60 children take part every week.

Cultural Cuba’s Jewish
Culture – History – Community
One-Day Itinerary

Breakfast at the HOTEL

Spend the morning discovering the past and present of the Cuban Jewish Community and visit the three synagogues of Havana, including TEMPLE ADATH ISRAEL, the only orthodox synagogue in Cuba. The Temple currently has approximately 300 members.

Temple Beth Shalom Havana Cuba Cultural Cuba

Visit BETH SHALOM synagogue, considered the headquarters of the Cuban Jewish Community and the pharmacy run by the Temple that provides medicine to the outlying Jewish communities. Bet Sholom also houses a Jewish library.

Meet with the President of BETH SHALOM.

Visit the SEPHARDIC CENTER and its Community Senior Center, which provides Jewish programming for Jews and non-Jews. The center has the only HOLOCAUST MUSEUM in Cuba, established by Steven Spielberg.

8 Temple Adath Israel Havana Cuba Cultural Cuba

Walk around the historic Jewish Quarter, located close to the city’s port. Once teeming with Jewish-owned shops, kosher restaurants, synagogues, and Jewish schools, it was a popular destination for cruise ships that would dock nearby. The neighborhood is run-down today, with few establishments still operating.

Visit the Jewish-themed HOTEL RAQUEL. From 1914 until 1990, the Baroque building housed an insurance company, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, the National Institute of Fishing, a warehouse for tobacco, and a public utility for the food industry. With each new occupant, the building deteriorated. Havana’s leading hotel chain committed to a significant restoration to attract Jewish clientele, and the Hotel Raquel opened in 2003. The Jewish-themed Art Nouveau interior features spaces with Hebrew names and Hebrew artwork by Cuban painters.

Enjoy lunch in Old Havana in a top-rated private paladar (general dietary restrictions can be accommodated).

Travel outside Havana to visit the JEWISH CEMETERY and the only Holocaust Monument in Cuba. There are about 1,100 gravesites in the cemetery, many in disrepair. U.S. Jews have contributed to the upkeep of some burial plots, but the cemetery has primarily been left to deteriorate. The restoration effort spearheaded by the City’s Historian Office is limited due to the ongoing severe economic crisis.

On Fridays, participate in SHABBAT Services followed by optional DINNER AT BET SHALOM. On a typical Shabbat, youth lead the services. There is no full-time clergy; the JDC arranges visits of rabbis who arrive — usually from Chile or Argentina — to conduct holiday services and life-cycle events.

Religios Services Beth Sahlom Havana Cultural cuba

Optional post-services activities: dine in a top-rated private paladar and then enjoy the ballet, live music, a private rum tasting, or a relaxing walk along Havana’s Malecon.

Want to discuss your options and possibilities?

Trip Discussion Form

If you would like us to develop a custom proposal for you, please schedule a conversation by clicking on the Let’s Talk button above or fill out this form, and we will contact you to discuss the details.

Cuba Havana Jewish Hotel Raquel History
Temple Beth Shalom Havana Cuba Cultural Cuba
Religios Services Beth Sahlom Havana Cultural cuba
Jewish Wedding Beth Shalom Havana Cultural Cuba
7 Temple Adath Israel Havana Cuba Cultural Cuba
Crafts Handsewn Kipas Temple Adath Israel Cultural Cuba

Gallery of Havana’s Jewish
Culture-History-Community

Gallery of Havana’s Jewish
Culture-History-Community

Trip Discussion Form

If you would like us to develop a custom proposal for you, please schedule a conversation by clicking on the Let’s Talk button above or fill out this form, and we will contact you to discuss the details.

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