For Cuba’s Jews, Saying “I Do” Under a Chuppah

Fresh off the plane from Havana, where he officiated at Jewish wedding ceremonies for 28 couples, Rabbi Shmuel Szteinhendler eagerly recounts how his visits to that small but vibrant island community began. It was January 1992 – the first of the 115+ visits he has made to Cuba on JDC’s behalf.

He encountered a few young people, who seemed then to comprise “all of Cuban Jewish youth.” They were holding a faded hand-lettered sign proclaiming Am Israel BeCuba Hai – “The Jewish People in Cuba are Alive.”

In the two decades that followed, this Latin American rabbi came to see this phrase as his challenge, the driving force behind the mission entrusted to him by JDC—to teach, inspire, and conduct religious services and life-cycle celebrations for this resurgent Jewish community.

Now, on this latest visit, he and other rabbis came to formalize the Jewish status of a group of community members, following classes conducted by local teachers trained by JDC professionals “from the moment we started our program on the island.”

“Here I recover my dignity,” said one class participant. “I now am who I wish to be, proud to be Jewish.”

For so many community members, this was an assertion they could not comfortably make when religious restrictions were in place on the island (1960-1991).

“The millennial chain that binds one generation with another was being restored,” wrote the rabbi in describing the formal ceremonies that he and his colleagues conducted, “and we were a part of that historic moment.”

The community wide celebration that followed overflowed with emotion, but the excitement rose even higher as the weddings drew near. Seven ceremonies were held in one day at the Sephardic Hebrew Center, the first Jewish weddings to be celebrated there in 55 years. 

The next day, 20 more weddings were scheduled to be held at the Patronato Synagogue, but then JDC’s resident representatives chose to add their names to the list. The couple had decided that they too wanted to “build their Jewish home” here, with community members standing in for far away family and friends.

“The great synagogue of the Patronato was decorated as never before,” related the rabbi. “There were special carpets, lights, some 450 guests, and a big chuppah (wedding canopy), which covered the 21 couples. Brides wore wedding dresses; men dressed in their finest clothes, some even in tuxedos. We could not believe our eyes. The ceremonies followed one after another, each one giving life to the words of the traditional Hebrew blessings.”

In the end, 28 chuppot were conducted, creating 28 new Jewish families. Pointing out that the Hebrew letters that represent the number 28 coincide with the word koach or strength, Rabbi Szteinhendler concluded that “strength is exactly what these families injected into community life and our people: strength, courage, vigor, and passion."

And in the spirit of the occasion, he added, “Lejaim! AM ISRAEL BECUBA HAI!"

Comments

X

An error occurred during your login.

X

JDC, Cookies, and Your Privacy

Cookies are small pieces of information sent by our web server for storage on your computer, to be retrieved when you return to this site. We use cookies to allow you faster, more convenient access, and to prevent you from being required to log in on every page of our sites.

For more information on JDC’s use of cookies, read our Privacy Policy.

X

An Error Occurred

X

Logging In With One of Your Social Web Site Logins

Instead of trying to remember a bunch of special username/password combinations to log in to different web sites that you visit, you can now link your account on this web site to your account on one (or more) of the social media web sites shown and log in with the same username/password combination that you use on that social web site to log in to our site.

To provide this connection in a secure manner, we use Gigya, a social network connection provider that works behind the scenes to make safe, secure connections between user accounts on different systems, such as popular social media web sites like Facebook and web sites like ours where you are actively involved in social issues and causes.

Each time you log in, Gigya uses special application programming interfaces (APIs) to establish the connection between the sites and validate your username and password. Neither our web site or Gigya receive or store your social network passwords.

In addition to reducing the number of logins you have to remember, connecting your accounts can make it quicker and easier to share an activity or cause you feel passionately about from our web site with your friends on your social web sites.

You can break the connection between your accounts at any time.