Cuban Revolution: Example
of fight against Jew-hatred
BY MAGGIE TROWE
Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party have spoken and acted forcefully against anti-Semitism, making a sharp distinction between the policies of the capitalist government of Israel and the Jewish people both there and in Cuba.
The Israeli government has consistently backed the U.S. embargo aimed at overthrowing Cuba's socialist revolution. In 2014, as in past years, Tel Aviv was the only government to vote with Washington against the United Nations resolution calling for the U.S. to lift it.
While Cuba's revolutionary government has strongly opposed Tel Aviv's assaults and discrimination against Palestinians, it has refused to challenge the state of Israel's right to exist.
"I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews," Castro told Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine in a September 2010 interview.
"Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms," Castro said, referring to waves of bloody anti-Jewish riots in Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. "One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation."
"The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust," Castro said.
"Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism," Goldberg wrote. He criticized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then-president of Iran, for denying the organized mass murder of some 6 million Jews, two-thirds of European Jewry, from 1933 by the Nazi regime in Germany, and "explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the 'unique' history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence."
Goldberg asked Castro if he thought the state of Israel had the right to exist. "Yes, without a doubt," Castro replied. When Goldberg then asked if Cuba would re-establish relations with Israel, Castro said that these things take time.
President Barack Obama was forced last December to admit Washington's embargo had failed to bring down Cuba's revolution, which — as the 1 million-strong May Day demonstration in Havana shows — maintains the overwhelming support of workers and farmers there. Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced Dec. 17 the two governments would seek to re-establish diplomatic relations.
"Will Israel follow the U.S. lead and restore ties with Cuba?" Haaretz newspaper in Israel asked two days later. After the Cuban Revolution, the two countries had maintained diplomatic relations until after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
"I have no doubt that Cuba is interested in ties with Israel," Rafi Eitan, a former operations head of Israel's spy agency, told the Jerusalem Post after the December announcements. "Renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba depends first and foremost on Israel."
Fidel's support for Cuban Jews
"Fidel had never visited the Jewish community," Adela Dworin, a medical doctor and president of the Patronato, the Jewish Community Center in Havana, told Richard Fellman, who visited Cuba as part of a mission to the Jewish community of Cuba sponsored by a Syracuse, New York, synagogue in 2013. So when Dworin saw Castro at a meeting in 1998, she approached him.
"'You've never been to the Patronato,' I told Fidel. He smiled and replied, 'That's true. But you never invited me.'" Castro attended a Hanukkah celebration there two weeks later.
Raúl Castro led a delegation to the Patronato in December 2010, donned a yarmulke, the Jewish skullcap, and lit Hanukkah candles. First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez lit the candles in 2013.
Kosher butcher shop
A March 11 article titled "How Castro Saved Cuba's Kosher Butcher" in Haaretz describes how Fidel Castro wrote a letter in 1962 providing for the meat shop to continue functioning at a time when many businesses were being nationalized by the revolutionary government.
Yacob Berezniak Hernández, an accountant and butcher, runs the shop today under the sponsorship of the Orthodox synagogue Adath Israel, which he leads. Once a month Berezniak supervises the slaughter of 60 cows along religious guidelines at a meat plant outside Havana, taking the front halves back to his shop, where he butchers them and distributes the meat free of charge to the city's three synagogues.
Under Cuba's rationing system, each person is allocated a fixed amount of pork every day, but because Jews don't eat pork, an exception is made for the Jewish community to receive kosher beef instead.
At the time of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there were some 15,000 Jews in Cuba. Today there are around 1,500 practicing Jews, most in Havana, and thousands more of Jewish descent who are not religious believers.
In 1991 the Cuban government allowed the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to begin sending visiting rabbis, kosher food and pharmaceuticals, and to finance celebrations to mark religious holidays and camp programs. The Patronato hosts Sunday school classes and lectures on Judaism and Cuban-Israeli relations.
"I never suffer any kind of persecution," Dworin told Emily Shire, a reporter for the Daily Beast, earlier this year. "My parents came from Poland. I decided to stay, and I made a good choice. Life here is much safer than in other Latin American countries."