• Meyer Grunberg

Havana's First Synagogue Opens, 1906.

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

On This Day in Jewish History: August 5th, 1906.


#onthisday, August 5th, 1906 - the first synagogue in Havana is opened by 11 American Jews, marking the beginning of Cuban Jewry - aka Jewbanos & Jewbanas.


While the first Jews arrived on the island during the 16th and 17th centuries escaping the Inquisition, these were most likely conversos or in constant persecution.


Following the 1898 Spanish-American War, Jews established a community in Cuba led by Ashkenazi Jews who had moved there for business - seeking to be more directly involved in the tobacco and sugar cane industries.


From 1910-1920, a significant number of Sephardic Jews from Turkey moved to Cuba and the population fluctuated over the next 20 years as many moved to the US or other Latin American countries. Infamously, the St.Louis ship fleeing Nazi Germany was denied from disembarking in Cuba (along with the US, Canada and other countries in the region)


Following Fidel Castro's revolution, nearly all of Cuba's Jews fled and the ones who stayed were mostly treated the same as the rest of the citizens. Following the 6 Day War, Castro's regime turned ardently anti-Zionist going as far as to publish anti-Zionist and antisemitic propaganda while specifically banning books like Anne Frank's diary. By 1973, Cuba would cut off all relations with Israel and even begin training PLO terrorist operatives on the island.


Nowadays, Cuba's remaining Jewish population comprises mostly of converts. Since 1992, the American Jewish Joint Distribution has worked hard to re-build the Jewish community. While there is no official rabbi on the island, Rabbi Shmuel Szteinhendler of Chile travels there from time to time to conduct ceremonies like weddings, brit milas, and bar/bat mitzvahs.


Text Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/cuba-virtual-jewish-history-tour

Image Source: http://www.jewishmag.co.il/106mag/cubanshul/cubanshul.htm


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