Distinguished Anthropologist Ruth Behar (recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship) returns to her native Cuba to profile the island’s remaining Sephardic Jews and chronicle her family’s journey to the U.S. as Cuban-Jewish exiles. Highlighting themes of expulsion and departure that are at the crux of the Sephardic legacy, Behar seeks reconciliation with Cubans on the island and advocates for the possibility of return and renewal. She debunks myths about the country’s Jewish community and unravels the influence of interfaith marriage, Afro-Cuban santería, tourism and the embargo on contemporary Cuban-Sephardic cultural identity. The result is a bittersweet, lyrical, and often humorous portrait of modern-day Cuba that few know exists today. Narrated by Elizabeth Peña. If you want to purchase this documentary go to the following link: Women Make Movies (films by and about women)


History Cuban Jewish Community 1890’S – 2009

Jews in Cuba (from the Encyclopedia Judaica)

“The first Jewish group to settle in Havana after Cuban independence (1902) came from the United States. They founded the United Hebrew Congregation in 1906. They were followed by Sephardim, mainly from Turkey, whose communal congregation, Shevet Ahim, was founded in 1914. In the 1920s thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in Cuba, hoping to use it as a stepping stone to the U.S. Many of them settled in Havana, where they founded the Centro Israelita (Jewish Center) in 1925, together with a large number of social, religious, cultural, and political organizations. In the late 1930s and during World War II Havana became a temporary haven for thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, using loopholes in Cuba’s immigration laws. In May 1939, however, Havana was the scene of the tragic episode of the S.S. *St. Louis, whose passengers were refused landing and were compelled to return to Europe, where many of them perished in extermination camps.

Following World War II the Havana community prospered both economically and socially. In 1951 the Ashkenazi community laid the cornerstone for the Patronato, a magnificent building that symbolized the social mobility and prosperity of Havana Jews. When the Sephardim inaugurated their Sephardi Center, Fidel Castro was already in power.

The Cuban revolution of 1959 marked the decline of Havana Jews. Following the nationalization of private business, around 90% of them emigrated from Cuba, most of them to the United States. The government respected the right of the Jewish community to continue its religious life, but the demographic decline, the emigration of lay and religious leaders, and the influence of the atheistic policy of the state had a growing impact on Jewish life. In 1973 Cuba severed its diplomatic relations with Israel, and the isolation of Havana Jews increased.”

For additional information on the Jews of Cuba see:

New Article! Cuba’s Dwindling Jewish Community Fighting For its Life

The Cuba-America Jewish Mission (The CAJM)

Cuba – The Virtual Jewish History Tour

B’nai B’rith International Cuban Jewish Relief Project

The Jews of Cuba

Mission to Cuba: The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Southeast Region


Frituras de Malanga

2 medium malanga or taro root, about 1 pound (available in Spanish markets)
1 small onion
1 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley (optional in Cuba)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional in Cuba)
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Peel the malanga. Grate, using the finest grating disk on your processor. Grate the onion in the same way. Replace the grating disk with the steel blade and pulse on about 20 times until the pieces are quite small but not mushy. Transfer to a bowl. Alternatively, grate the malanga and onion on the fine side of a grater and place in a bowl.
2. Add the remaining ingredients except the oil and mix well.
3. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a frying pan until very hot, about 375°F.
4. Using a teaspoon, drop the mixture into the hot oil. Fry until golden on each side.
5. Drain on paper towels.
6. Serve with Mojo sauce, sour cream, apple sauce, or salsa. Yield: approximately 40 small fritters.

Mojo Sauce
The ubiquitous orange trees in Andalusia are not the sweet variety we associate with Valencia; they were probably brought to this region with the Spanish conquistadores. Sour orange juice is now a common ingredient in Cuba, confirming its roots in Spanish and possibly Jewish cooking (the first Spaniard to set foot on Cuba was a Jew–Columbus’ scout).

Mojo Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup sour orange juice or 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat a 1-quart saucepan for 15 seconds. Add the olive oil and heat for 10 seconds.
2. Add the garlic and cook for 20 seconds or until it just starts to get lightly golden. Do not let the garlic brown or the sauce will become bitter.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a rolling boil. Cook for three minutes.
4. Remove the sauce from the heat. Adjust the seasonings if necessary and chill until ready to serve with the fritters or on top of vegetables, meats, or fish. Yield: approximately 1 cup of sauce.
Recipe courtesy of Reform Judaism Magazine

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