Then: a long bus ride to Cienfuegos, where we spent the night.
Yesterday (Day Four of our trip), was devoted primarily to touring in Cienfuegos.
Of the approximately 1500 Jews in Cuba today, only about 200 or so live outside of Havana. Those 200 are found primarily in Santa Clara (where there is an actual synagogue building), Sancti Spiritus, and in Cienfuegos. The community in Cienfuegos meets weekly in the apartment of Rebecca, the leader of the community. We were privileged to visit her home, and meet with her and her son David. The communal gathering space is filled with a Jewish library, and members of our group remarked that many of the volumes in their library were also in our own synagogue collection.
The Cienfuegos Jewish community is quite small, numbering today less than ten families. But they are filled with a deep sense of commitment as they continue to bring Judaism to this part of the Island. And they are hopeful that their children (who are marrying those who are not Jewish) will continue to live Jewish lives and raise Jewish children.
Although the setting of their Jewish life is of course different from our own, we were all struck - yet again - by how similar our communities’ stories are. We too labor to create a space for our young people to learn about our traditions. And we too hope that the next generation will choose to continue to pass those traditions down, regardless of the religious identities of our children’s future partners.
After leaving Rebecca’s home, we took an extensive walking tour of the main shopping district of Cienfuegos. Our guide took us in to several Cuban grocery and supply stores, which opened up an extensive conversation about the economics of modern Cuban life. Each of us is trying to make our own assessment of the toll that Communism has taken here historically. On the one hand, there is clearly poverty and food shortages. And on the other hand, we are being led to believe that Cubans are healthy, happy, cultured people. Our group continues to ask our guide great questions, and I know that we will be grappling with these issues throughout the rest of the visit.
Our day closed with a drive to Trinidad, where our tour continues today.