Exploring the Heart of Cuban Jewry

I recently embarked on an amazing journey, delving into the rich history and culture of Cuba's Jewish community. Organized by the Federation, this mission had a dual purpose—to meaningfully engage our community and illuminate the impact of Annual Campaign support on global Jewry. Working closely with our dedicated co-chairs, Lily Kanter, Marc Sarosi, Josh Smith, and Lael Culiner, and our longstanding partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), we crafted an itinerary that seamlessly blended Jewish experiences with cultural immersion designed to provide us insight into the unique needs and challenges of the Cuban people. We learned that the harsh realities of daily life in Cuba, exacerbated by the socialist political system and economic strain of the pandemic, have only increased the country's dependence on tourism as a primary industry. With food shortages and energy rationing, the challenges are daunting. Yet despite facing infrastructure deficiencies and limited resources, the people of Cuba were incredibly kind and welcoming, showing deep appreciation that we were there.

One of the highlights of our mission was our visit to the Patronato in Havana, a vibrant and bustling Jewish community center and synagogue that exemplifies the impact of our collective contributions. In the early 1990s, Federation funding helped the JDC reenter Cuba.That’s when they discovered the Patronato in severe disrepair – with crumbling walls, missing ceilings, and a disheartening atmosphere of neglect. Through concerted efforts and support, however, the Patronato underwent a remarkable transformation and is now a thriving hub of Jewish life.

During our time at the Patronato, we were privileged to participate in Shabbat services and witness the community's vibrancy firsthand. Despite language barriers, we joined together in singing Hebrew songs and our shared embrace of tradition. Every moment, from the spirited youth group performances to the preparations for Purim celebrations, demonstrated the strength and spirit of the Jewish people and our connection to each other. As I reflect on our journey, one thing becomes crystal clear: the importance of our philanthropy in supporting communities in need. Whether by providing essential supplies to the Patronato's pharmacy (we arrived with several suitcases full of essential medication and supplies) or funding Shabbat dinners, our contributions make a real-life difference for both Cuban Jews and the wider community.

Looking ahead, we are excited to continue providing more meaningful opportunities for our Bay Area community to come together and experience the impact of their philanthropy firsthand. My experience makes me totally confident that together, we can make a difference in the lives of those in need and ensure a brighter future for generations to come.


March 28, 2024


Rebecca Randall