One cannot help but notice that the so many of the edifices in Havana - both in the Old City and beyond - are in an immense state of disrepair.
Thanks to age, weather, and - most certainly since the Revolution of the late 1950s, politics - the buildings of this city have been neglected. Even as thousands and thousands of residents live inside of them, and rely on them for housing (moving to a new home in Cuba is absurdly complicated), they are falling apart.
After the major economic downturn that Cuba experienced in the 1990s (tied to the downfall of the Soviet Union), the government decided to begin reinvesting in large scale restoration of these buildings. And so our walking tour revealed that certain designated buildings here and there had already been restored, and others were in process.
It will take decades to complete the project, but it has begun. And it is one of the more remarkable pieces of evidence of how life has changed since I was last here in 2010: the city looks better. It is slowly coming back to life.
After our visit and discussion with Adela, we returned to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat, then went back to the Patronato to share Shabbat services and dinner with them. They have a committed community of teens and young adults who lead services for them weekly, and our group was deeply moved by their passion, knowledge, and commitment.
As I ended the day last night, I couldn’t help but wonder about the symmetry between our visit to the Old City in the morning, and our time with the Patronato at the end of the day. Both are in the process of restoration. Both at one time were substantial and significant, and then both fell into a state of ‘disrepair’. (In the case of the Cuban Jewish community, brought on by the departure of 90% of the community in the late 1950s and early 1960s and Castro’s subsequent ban on religious gatherings that was on the books until the early 1990s.)
But restoration and renewal are powerful forces. They can bring architectural beauty back to life. And they can bring communities back to life too.
It’s Shabbat, so today is a quieter one on our itinerary….We’ve blocked out this morning for some free time so that members of our group can have the space for their own personal sense of renewal. We travel to Cienfuegos during the latter part of the day…