I’m typing this Blog (my first ever) on my iPhone from Cuba, on the drive from Havana to Cienfuegos, which is ironic since the vast majority of Cubans have never seen an iPad, or iPhone, or really any cell phone or smartphone for that matter. Of course, it will have to be sent when I get to the hotel since there’s no cell service available to us while out and about and I only hope the Internet is working – I’m told the service is spotty. It’s refreshing to walk down the street and not see people attached to their cell phones and smart phones as they walk (and drive). In fact, it’s refreshing to not be one of those people, even if only for a week. Maybe this trip will cause me to change my habits in the future (but not likely!).
Today is our third day in Cuba. We landed Monday, and after making our way through Cuban customs with our “gifts for people we may meet along the way,” our adventure began. Our first stop was the Sephardic Center, a small synagogue and community center, servicing mostly an older population. We met with its director and learned about the Jews in the community. From there, we checked into the beautiful Hotel Nacional de Cuba, set right on the Gulf of Mexico. With Mojitos in hand, we listened to a presentation about the history of the Jews in Cuba, which we were told dates back to the 1490s. We ended with dinner outside on the hotel grounds with traditional Cuban foods, overlooking the water and serenaded by a peacock on the roof.
Day two started with a tour of Havana, mainly the Old Havana area. When we stepped off the bus, we were immediately surrounded by people selling items, from paper cones of peanuts (which were delicious, by the way), to flowers, to caricatures (ask Rabbi Knobel to show you the caricatures of him and Elaine). While on our tour, we stopped by an elementary school, where we dropped off our contribution of school supplies and toothbrushes. It was wonderful watching the children file by to receive their gifts. After lunch (while watching a parade of old American vehicles drive by), we headed to Patronato, the largest of the synagogues in Havana. We filled up a good portion of the luggage compartment under the bus with enormous quantities of our gifts of medicine, medical supplies, hygiene supplies and clothing. The items were split between the two synagogues. Both have pharmacies that provide the medicines to the Jewish community, as well as to the surrounding community. The Cuban Jewish community is greatly helped by our gifts and those from the US Jewish community and it felt great to be a small part of it. For dinner, most of us split up and ate at “paladars,” which are privately owned restaurants. (I ate at La Fontana, and sat in the same chair in which Beyonce sat – no joke!)
Now we’re on our way to Cienfuegos, where there is also a small Jewish community (which is located in a person’s house). Hopefully, more blogging to come.
Note: Indeed, no Internet in Cienfuegos so I had to wait to send from Havana on day 5.
Kimberly Ross has been a member of Temple Sholom for 20 years and serves on its Board of Directors. She is also active in Sisterhood and sings in the Shir Shalom Choir