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Cuba Junky Home


The Days of Awe in Havana and Santiago

By Lurker

I feel pretty good about this one, although in some ways it is more ambitious than some of the others, and probably has a few more kinks to be worked out. Takes place mostly in Synagogues, so if it ever published, it will need a glossary at the end for Hebrew and Spanish!
You can probably catch the drift anyway!
Thank you, all of you, even the lefties! It is a privilege to participate, so I hope I don't abuse the privilege too often!

My cousin David was a freelance photojournalist who occasionally worked for the New York Times. His career bread and butter had always been sports photography, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer, although like almost all photographers he's always inventing sidelines, like portraits of Art Museum Patrons, and even weddings and Bar Mitzvahs when it was absolutely necessary. I had been going to Cuba for a while, and even though I had hardly spent a day with this cousin in the last 15 years, the fact that I had repeatedly visited this exotic place had spread to the farthest reaches of the family. So when David was offered a chance to do a photo essay on 'The Jews of Cuba', he got my number and asked me if I could be his guide. I readily agreed, maybe because I wanted him to verify for the rest of the family that so far I wasn't in danger of being put in any jail, or maybe because I wanted him to tell me after we got back that such a place actually existed, and was not something that I had imagined. Many Americans who visited Cuba in the 1990's share an obsession with this forbidden place, not because it is forbidden , but because it is so genuinely strange. Hopefully you have observed, dear reader, through these stories that you have been reading, that Cuba is completely different, not only from Cleveland and San Francisco, but also from the Dominican Republic or Brazil or every single place in the world. If not, I will have to start these stories all over again in order to do a better job of proving it to you. Perhaps this was my true motivation for wanting to take my cousin to Cuba- aside from the fact that he asked me. At the time, I knew no other Americans who had ever been there and part of the joy of every traveler is to convince someone that the events you witnessed really did happen.

My qualifications as guide were that I pretty much knew how to operate in this parallel universe, and I also knew my way around the Jewish Prayer Book. David thought it might be helpful if someone could tell him when to bow and when to take three steps forward, since he had forgotten a few of the basics in the 30 years since his Bar Mitzvah. Although actually, maybe he just told me that he needed my help in the synagogue in order to enlist me. Generally speaking, photographers are not afraid of protocol, since their job is to stick their nose into everybody's business and act like they are supposed to be there.
David drove up from Philly in his battered Chevrolet to meet me in Vermont, which is on the way to Montreal and Havana. He explained to me and my Cuban wife Dalia, who was staying behind in Vermont, that the New York Times hadn't actually promised to run this particular piece, but the Jews of Cuba were hot, ever since this particular tribe had been rediscovered. We would go down for Yom Kippur, for maximum dramatic effect. True, a photo of a Cuban Jew walking the streets of Havana had a certain value at any time of the year, but a communist Jew davvenning during the high holy days, or an anti communist Jew sitting in a Succah and protesting the lack of religious freedom, or maybe both Jews, however the story turned out to be, would be exponentially more compelling. Maybe it would be the break David needed to get away from sports and portraits into the more prestigious world of international feature stories. Dalia didn't really understand why the world would really care about the Jews of Cuba, or for that matter, why should they care about the 11 million Cubans of Cuba who according to her hadn't done a thing for themselves since the time of Antonio Maceo. "Cojones" she would shout out. "Los Cubanos no merecen nada hasta que rebeldan del Singao!" She was already well on her way to citizenship, because she thought like a Republican, even though she was still thinking in Spanish.

Since the airplane left Montreal close to dawn, and since Montreal is about three hours away from where I live, we drove up the night before and then stayed awake for the rest of the night getting re-acquainted. He told me about his wealthy Jewish in laws, who were either real estate developers or lawyers. We were definitely the poor sheep of the family, perhaps because we are so easily distracted from the pursuit of money by just about anything. I tried to explain everything to him in advance, knowing that this was impossible. In Cuba, especially in out of the way places, we might be the wealthiest people that the person we were talking to had ever met. All foreigners, even if they are on food stamps in a rent-controlled apartment, have lives that are about as incomprehensible to the average Cuban as the life of the Shah of Iran would be to the average American.

About the only thing that I had really known about my cousin is that his first child had been born with a severe learning disability. The fulcrum of the life of David and his wife Amy had been to teach their son Marc how to eat with a fork, and sit in a classroom, and take his medicine without throwing a temper tantrum, and preparing him as much as possible for the time when they wouldn't be around to do this any more. They had a younger son whom they certainly hoped would follow in the footsteps of the lawyers and real estate developers, so he could earn enough money to take care of his brother forever. Amy was just a social worker trying to help the disadvantaged, but the main value of her job was that it provided health insurance for Marc.

We flew to Havana, bleary eyed, and since I am a cheapskate, I told the taxi driver to take us to the Lido hotel in La Habana Vieja. I learned a long time ago that underachievers can have pretty much the same quality of life as real estate developers, provided that they are willing to sleep in lousy hotels. You can sit in the lobbies of the most expensive hotels all day long, and all you have to do is be willing to be in the cheapest hotel when you are unconscious and don't know where you are. This simple trick is almost enough to save anyone from having to work for idiot bosses, unless you happen to have something like a learning disabled child, in which case the idiot bosses are much harder to avoid.

David had a week to spare, and since Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are always 10 days apart, I had decided that we should fly down after Rosh Hashanah in order to be able to stay for Succot. My reasoning was that a picture of a Jew in the Synagogue at Rosh Hashanah would be pretty much the same picture as the Jew in the Synagogue at Yom Kippur, since it is difficult to tell from a photo whether someone has been eating in the past few hours. Succot, however, offered other potential possibilities of Jews sitting in flimsy, impermanent structures, by which I mean the booths that are built to be flimsy, and not the concrete buildings that everyone lives in that are impermanent for lack of maintenance. The plan was to visit all three Jewish Synagogues in Havana in the days before Rosh Hashanah, which included one Shabbat, and then go to Santiago for Yom Kippur. Then we would come back to Havana in time to see the Succah being prepared.. David had about 200 rolls of film donated by Kodak. They were also hoping for the one photo of the really memorable Cuban Jew, with the New York Times article noting, as if carelessly, that the film was Kodak ektapress 2600. Everything was dependent upon us finding that one Jew.

We started our reconnaisance work at the Main Synagogue in Havana, the Patronato, which is led by Dr. Jacob Springer. Dr Springer is not a Rabbi, and in fact there are no Rabbis who live in Cuba. He is, however, a good Communist, which is more than enough qualification to lead the Jewish Community on the island.

We walked into the Synagogue's library and met Naomi Behar, who is the librarian and the unofficial leader of the Synagogue. Most every Synagogue has somebody who in charge, and somebody else who organizes all of the work.

I introduced myself- "My name is Michael, this is my cousin David and we're here from the United States to do a photo piece on the Jews of Cuba"

Naomi was busy with something so she said, "You'll have to speak to Dr. Springer" Although I got the feeling that even if she wasn't busy, foreign photographers were automatically the business of Dr. Springer. Only problem was that Dr. Springer was also busy. We walked over to his office and stood outside the closed door with the glass window watching him talk to somebody on the phone. We came back every few minutes, and we could tell that he had seen us, but we obviously weren't important enough to be greeted, even after he got off the phone and stood writing at his desk. Of course, the whole world has changed since Abraham first installed a door on each of he four sides of his tent, just so that a guest could be welcomed as quickly as possible.

David had spent his entire working life inviting himself into places where he wasn't really wanted, which is a specialized skill. The principal trade secret is to make a joke of everything, be exceptionally good-natured, never get offended, act like you are everyone's best friend, and despite themselves, most people come to believe that you actually are a long lost friend, and then you are permitted to do whatever it is that you want to do.

So David knocked at the door while Dr. Springer was writing at the desk.

"Come back later," said Dr. Springer.

"When should we come back?" asked David, I didn't need to translate because Dr Springer speaks English.

"What is it that you want," said Dr. Springer, a little bit annoyed. From past experience I have learned that the Jews of Cuba are Cubans in every sense, which means hospitable, garrulous, willing to stay up most of the night just to welcome any stranger with or without a bottle of rum, just for the chance to talk about the world. However, it now seemed that leaders of the Jewish Community were also Machers in the traditional sense, which means self important, imperious, irritable.

"I'm from the New York Times," said David, walking into the room covered with cameras, and extending his hand in friendship, while neglecting to mention that he was working on spec. "I've been sent here to take some pictures during the Holidays. We'd like to make your community here a little more famous!" And he smiled, almost winking, as if fame was just a detail that he could pretty easily arrange if he decided that he wanted to.

"You'll have to come back later," said Dr. Springer. Fame apparently meant little to him, since he was already the most important and therefore the most famous Jew on the island.

"When should we come back" I asked. And David added, "You know, after we get this story out, the Jews of America will want to do a lot more to help the Jewish Community here". David was sincere in this offer. He knew that the Jews of America are a generous people, and part of their religious belief is to help their benighted brethren in the four corners of the world. He also knew how to talk to Machers, maybe from his experience working the Art Museums.

Dr. Springer looked at David, and then said, in Spanish, "You're working for the New York Times?"
"You've heard of it?" smiled David, and he showed him his press pass. The pass, however, was just from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dr. Springer knew the difference.

"My regular job is with the Inquirer. But I've done lots of pieces for the Times" Then he took out his portfolio, showing a few pieces from the Times with his byline.

"What kind of visa did you come to Cuba with," asked Springer

"He came on a general license from the US " I explained. And his visa is a regular tourist visa. It's just a lot easier that way".

"Journalists are required to notify the Cuban authorities that they are visiting Cuba for professional reasons. We want to make sure that professional journalists are extended every courtesy, and are given all the assistance they might need"

This is where my knowledge of how to accomplish things in Cuba began to be useful.

"It's true that he works for the New York Times, as you can see" I explained. But he's also a tourist. He's with me, his cousin. My wife is Cuban, from Santiago. We're going there to visit my family, and we're also going to Varadero before we go back home. We explained all of this at the Customs. We came through the next to the last booth, and there was a mulata working there who after hearing our plans told us that the tourist visa would be sufficient, since that was one of the reasons for our trip. I didn't ask her name, but I could point her out to you at the airport"

I've never really learned if the Cuban authority figures believe all the stories I invent, but the most important thing is always to have a plausible story. This concept of 'plausible assertability', a close cousin of 'plausible deniability' seems to stop the authorities dead in the fulfillment of their official duties.
"When do they plan to run the story," asked Dr. Springer.

" Right after the Holidays" And then, I added, "you know, pictures from the Days of Awe wouldn't be very useful around Passover"

"Come back tomorrow morning" said Dr. Springer. "I can pose for you tomorrow. The light is better in the morning. One picture at the top of the steps outside, and then another picture with me working here in my office. You can take some other pictures if you want to".

On the way out the door I lingered a little at a photo on the wall. I made sure that David saw what I was looking at, and that he had a chance to look as well.

"Wow" he said, after we were alone in the hallway away from Dr Springer's office. "Jacob Springer and Fidel. I guess this guy's got connections"

'That's his boss" I explained.

"What was all that talk about customs, and visas? I didn't get any of that"

"You're supposed to tell the Cubans when you come through that you're a journalist. Tourists can do anything they want. A tourist can sleep with a goat, if he's discrete about it, but journalists are important. Don't worry, he'll probably tell the proper people all that they need to know about you." I might have been exaggerating about the goat, because I don't really know if a tourist could sleep with a goat. I only imagine that it could be arranged. Although to be fair, it could probably be arranged almost as easily in New Jersey, provided that a goat could be procured.

"What a pompous jerk that guy is," said David, who didn't bother to mince words, since all of his thoughtfulness goes into creating images.

"He's the head of the Jewish Community" I explained

"So? Isn't it possible that the head of the Jewish Community could be a regular fellow?"

"You know how it was in the old Soviet Union?" I asked. ."The head of the Orthodox Church was appointed by Stalin. If he wasn't a friend of Stalin's, he wouldn't be allowed to be the head of the Orthodox Church. That's pretty much how I imagine it works here with all the Churches. You know, all the Churches here collect donations from the world. They keep some, and they give some over to the government. I don't really know this is true, I just imagine that it might be true. My guess is that some years ago El Commandante thought to himself, 'Who can I appoint to be the tax collector from the Jews of the world? Maybe he had to think about it for a few days, carefully weighing everyone's loyalty in his omniscient mind. Although most of the Jews were small businessmen and left right after the revolution, there were plenty of Communist Jews who were loyal to the Revolution. You know how we are- we're in bed with the international bankers, and then we go out to have breakfast with our buddy Trotsky. That's why the world loves us so much."

In fairness, I have to say that maybe everything I said about Dr Springer and Fidel is a form of Lashon Hara, Hebrew for Evil Tongue, which is a terrible sin. Perhaps Dr. Springer became head of the Jewish Community because of his profound studies of Kabbalah, or quite possibly through his knowledge of Mussar literature. I'm sure it is very wrong of me to speculate about things that I know nothing about. I therefore made a mental note to repent for slandering Dr.Springer, my fellow Jew, and during the Days of Awe! . Slander is a very serious business, and every Jew should be given the benefit of the doubt. .
We went back to the library to speak to Naomi, who was friendly enough to give us all the contacts we needed in Havana. She set up a meeting with the representative from the Joint Distribution Committee, which has been quietly funding the approximately 1,000 stubborn tropical Jews who never left for Miami or Tel Aviv. Friday night synagogue services became much better attended after the Joint became involved, perhaps because of the young community organizers sent from Argentina who organized Israeli dancing, Hebrew lessons, camping trips for the children, and also perhaps because the oneg shabbat usually included a chicken leg and other foods that were not generally available. In no way do I mean to imply any cynicism here, because the Sabbath is meant to be celebrated and not endured, and food goes a long way to make people feel better.

Naomi also made the arrangements for us to visit Jews who originally came from Morocco, and other Jews who originally came from Poland. But even before we could go to keep these appointments, we made our own arrangements with a few of the Jews who are always on the lookout for Jewish tourists. These are a subclass of jineteros that the guidebooks seldom talk about. The cigar and chica selling jineteros hang around outside the Casa de la Trova looking for tourists in general, because that's where the cigar and chica buying tourists are likely to be found. The Jewish jineteros hang around outside the synagogue, for the same reason, looking for Jewish tourists to whom they can tell stories about the Jewish community, and maybe allow pictures of themselves, while mentioning how terrible the situation really is for everyone. It would be misleading to classify these generally older gentlemen as schnorrers, because schnorrers usually ask for money for nothing, whereas jineteros generally try to provide some service. The only service that these older Jews can offer is their memories, but fortunately, memory has always been a valuable commodity in the Jewish world. We are generally happy to pay for personal recollections of where someone's father's clothing business used to be located, and exactly why the Board of Directors of one Synagogue split over some ritual or social or personal issue, forcing half the community to angrily create a new Synagogue across town or around the corner.

We went to the house of Luis, one of these elderly Jews, who it turned out had been a composer and a historian. He had a few CD's made of one of his symphanies, which he was happy to give us. Of course we gave him some money, after eating lunch that his sister served for us on the balcony of his older building in Central Havana. While we ate, we were serenaded by a few caged parakeets that lived on the balcony where they could observe the motorcycles and the bicycle taxis and the tourists with their Cuban girlfriends. Luis' sister explained that these were older parakeets, and perhaps like older Jews, they were not so much observing what was going on but comparing what they were now seeing with the way things used to be. Nobody really knows whether older parakeets are talking about the things that are happening to them then and there, or the things that happened when the world was younger and their future was still ahead of them. It is even possible that parakeets, unlike older men, prefer to speculate on the times yet to come.

Luis accepted our twenty dollars, with a wry smile of chagrin, which was able to convey both his gentle gratitude, and his recognition of the absurdities with which life eventually confronts us all. His particular absurdity, apparently, was to grow very old in his Havana apartment, a witness to forty years of revolutionary struggle. At least the synagogues were now open again, and he had the opportunity to meet and confer with Jews from all around the world, just as older Jews used to do in coffee houses in Vienna, or hummus eateries in Tunisia. If he had gone to Miami, the universe would certainly have arranged a different absurdity for him, perhaps even stranger than the one he was living. We talked about all of this, with David shooting a few rolls of film, and then Luis went to the back room and brought out an actual bottle of schnapps that had been brought over by a tourist from Toronto. We drank, to life, of course, and to music, and to the parakeets.

Luis then took us on a small tour of the Jewish world, in a taxi that we hired. We visited the old Jewish commercial area in the old city on O'Reilly and Obispo, the old kosher butcher shop that was closed down before the new kosher butcher was closed down, the old vacant Orthodox Synagogue back when Havana had two Orthodox Synagogues and virtually no truly Orthodox Jews. Something about the Cuban atmosphere- the tropical birdsong, or the beautiful beaches, or the enticing chicas, or the rum, or the lack of anti-semitism, or the gracious and courteous live and let live environment, whatever it was, fundamentalism surrendered without much resistance, and has never really returned to this day. Even the pastors at the most evangelical churches might have one or two girlfriends on the side, and although the flock would consider this to be incorrect, who would want to throw the first stone?

When this first tour was over we dropped Luis off back at his house and went to visit the Sephardic Synagogue not too far away from the Patronato. We were fortunate that the President of this Synagogue was in his study, and he .


Immediately rose to welcome us and give us a tour of the building. Like all the other Synagogues of Cuba, this Synagogue was rescued from its prior use as a public building and converted back into a Synagogue when religion became approved again sometime after the fall of the Soviet Union. The President of this Synagogue let it be known that he was President by virtue of being elected, not appointed. We took many photos of the building and the people who were walking in and out and interviewed the Synagogue President for a long time. Then we went to visit the Jews from Poland and the Jews from Morocco and ate special cakes and took many photos of the children and talked about the Jewish world, just like we would have done in Vermont or anywhere else. Then we went back to the Lido hotel.

But David was no where near ready to sleep, even though we had already accomplished a lot. Just as I had warned him, the real story was not the Jews of Cuba, but the Cubans of Cuba, of whom the Jews were just the tiniest subset. We walked around the old city, and shot another 20 rolls of film with our flash apparatus , photos of old cars and black and white kids playing stickball and the gorgeous buildings that like certain women retained almost all of their beauty even though they had been much younger and fresher so long ago. Like so many other people, David was astonished at the number of unique images that he had never seen before- images that are available for our viewing pleasure at every single moment. Some people were arguing, and some people were dancing and some people were surrounded by other people who were gesticulating and some people were standing outside a building shouting 'OYE! MARILU! TELEFONOOOOO!!! This was all new to David because he had never been outside of the United States before and now he was in Havana with all the people on bicycles and the people selling blenderized fruit drinks from the window of their house and the harbor and the ocean waves and the fort on the other side of the bay in the background. It is quite enough to drive many of us crazy

Two young girls were riding in a 50's era Chrysler as we were approaching the statues of the lions at the entrance to the Prado and when they saw the two us the taxi stopped and they asked us if we wanted to accompany them somewhere. David smiled, feeling the pure joy of the moment, and then starting taking more pictures. He didn't want to go anywhere with these girls, because his wife and two children were waiting for him in Philadelphia, and he knew beyond any doubt that his wife Amy was the best thing that had ever happened to him and the most important thing in his life. But he did want to take these pictures, and the girls gladly posed for him, in and out of the Chrysler, laughing, and teasing him a little for being so faithful, and appreciating the fact that he was in love and that love is that which most deserves to be honored. I was also in love with my Cuban wife, and if this was not enough all by itself to keep me eternally faithful, (and I am stating this hypothetically, without really knowing one way or the other), I was moved by David's loyalty, and the knowledge that he might snitch on me, to emulate his devotion, for the entire week that we were in Cuba.

We went back to the hotel, eventually, and walked up the stairs since the elevator wasn't working, all the way to the rooftop bar where food was still being served even though the posted hour was long past. We sat at one of the tables and looked out at the beautiful city, more interesting than Rome, perhaps because it captured the entire history of modern Rome transforming itself into ancient Rome, as buildings fell in very slow motion before our eyes. True, it might take a few decades of time lapse photography, because even fallen building are astonishingly rebellious against their final collapse. But we could feel that the moment was approaching, when the ornate pillars of those buildings that were missing only a few bricks or lintels would surrender to the inevitable, with a sigh and then a loud cry, and hunch down suddenly, and a cloud of white dust would then envelop the surrounding streets, moving visibly towards the surprised pedestrians before blinding them, and leaving a few walls and arches when the dust finally settled many minutes later, that themselves might continue to stand for another decade. It was all apparent, and known in advance, because the human eye is capable of seeing even more than the camera, since it can look into the future.

And at the same time a few selected parts of ancient Rome were being renovated and transformed back into modern Rome, as scaffolding might be put up to protect entirely empty facades here and there, the walls and columns that had already undergone the first stages of collapse, only to be resuscitated by hundreds of emergency artisans, and thousands of pounds of cement mixed with shovels scraping on the closed off streets, day after day, and carried up by ropes and buckets, with thin negro workers as assiduous as the builders of the tower of Babel, year after year, until all the stone carvers had finished their work and paint was obtained from somewhere and lo! The glory of ancient Rome was made new again! Living in Havana is almost like living in various centuries at the same time, as the magnificent opulence created by slaves and sugar and trade and pillage and the ruins of this wealth exist simultaneously, like a corpse that the doctors have learned to keep alive forever. The ruins of the city serve only to make it more eternal

. Our first day in Cuba and David had already shot forty roles of film. We slept at last, only because sleep is necessary, even to children who want to stay awake and see more forever!

In the morning we were back on the job very early. First, we went to see the Argentine representative from the charitable Jewish world, the Joint Distribution Committee, that had been buying so much chicken.

"What's with this Dr Springer" David wanted to know

"Ahh, Doctor Springer" answered the young shaliach, which is Hebrew for the guy who is sent to educate the community and maybe also distribute the goodies. "What can I say about Dr Springer?"

"What a control freak"

"Ahh, Dr Springer" said the Argentine

We talked about all the good work that the Jews of the world were doing for the approximately 1,000 Jews of Cuba, shrinking all the time as Jews were quietly permitted to go away to Israel, although not shrinking as quickly as they would have if not, as I mentioned before, for the chicken, and also of course the religious renaissance that was apparent all over the island, even amongst the practitioners of Yoruba.
Then we went back to the Patronato for our morning appointment with Springer. He was waiting for us in his office, and he addressed us by saying, "New York Times".

'That's right" said David.

'OK. I'm ready now. First, we go outside the building. I want you to take a picture of me holding the Torah on the top step of the entranceway".

"We don't need that picture" said David. "You know, the pictures that I take are more informal. That's what people like. Just everyday people going about their everyday business".

"Maybe you don't know this" said Dr Springer, "but all the Synagogues in Havana are part of a Coordinating Committee, of which I have been the chairperson for more than fifteen years. There must be a reason I'm the chairperson, don't you think? So let's take the pictures that I suggest, and if you want you can take all kinds of other pictures, and use whatever you want. But you'll see that I generally know what I'm talking about."

I was all for doing whatever Dr Springer wanted, because he was right, he couldn't force us to use any particular picture once we got back to New York- his authority didn't extend quite that far. But David has a rebellious streak in him, which is why he became a photographer and not a Macher.

'That's O.K" he said. "I don't want that picture. No posed pictures. If you want I can take a few pictures of you right now, just talking to us"

"OK, we can go into my office and you can take a picture of me there".

'You know what?" said David. "If you don't want me to take any pictures of you, we don't have to. I already found another Jewish President", referring to the Sephardic Synagogue. "In New York they probably don't know the difference. One Jewish President is as good as another!"

Dr Springer made a mental note to himself, and then just said, "I'm a very busy man. I'm responsible for all the Jews of Cuba. If you don't want my help, I have a lot of other things to do" And just as he said this, David took the lens of the camera that he had already focused and snapped Dr Springer's picture.
"That's the picture I wanted" he smiled. Just you going about your business. I know you're very busy, and I want to thank you for all your time" And then he smiled his affable country club smile, like he had known Springer for years, and was also a good friend of his wife and family too, if he happened to have one. "We'll come to Shabbat services tomorrrow night, but I won't take any pictures, because it's Shabbat," he added, under my tutelage, "But maybe I'll snap a few shots before Shabbat begins. Thank you for all your advice" and he smiled again, and then took another picture of the Dr Springer who was trying to show that none of this startled him.

"Oh, I almost forgot" said David. The guy from the Joint told me that you had a really good pharmacy here- maybe the best in the whole country. I want to go over there and snap a few pictures"
We walked down the hall, leaving Dr Springer behind. "That was impressive" I said, and I have to admit, that although I am not as rebellious as David, I was laughing. "Where did you learn to talk to people like that?"

"The only way to deal with pushy people is to be more pushy than they are. The hell with this guy Springer! I don't want any pictures of him carrying a Torah like he was about to cross the Red Sea. They'd laugh me out of New York if I showed up with those kinds of pictures."

We spent much of the day on the job, first at the pharmacy, then over to the Jewish cemetery. then back to the Patronato to shoot the Israeli folk dancing led by the wife of the Argentinian. In the evening we went over to Orthodox Synagogue in the old City for the regular evening service. We got there early, so I could ask a few questions about proper decorum- would anybody mind if we took pictures during the service? We were surprised to learn that there was a Lubavitch Rabbi who was visiting for the Holidays from New Orleans, which is another place that you don't associate with Lubavitch, although of course they are everywhere, even Havana, at least during the Days of Awe. The Rabbi shrugged, just like all of his antecedents before him, and said, "It's not shabbas, nu? Take all the pictures you want! It won't hurt anybody! It might even help!" So throughout the service, David was working the room, both the men's section and the women's section, crouching up to the Bimah to get a close up when the Ark was opened during Alenu, looking back at the sixty or so gathered people and capturing the faces of each of them, snapping the Rabbi a few times during his drash. It didn't bother anyone, because he had remembered my advice and didn't take any pictures during the Amidah but actually took off his cameras, stood by my side, bowed when I bowed, and followed along until the Amidah was finished, when he went back to work.

We stayed around after the service to talk to everyone and take more pictures. Everyone was friendly, but really not all that interested.

"Lots of Jews come here" said an old man with a Chinese sounding name that I can't quite remember. The Jews of the world come here like we were some sort of zoo animals. Two TV crews already, one from Europe. Magazines every few months, we've seen it all. Not the New York Times, though. Who knows, maybe something will come of it all"

It didn't bother David that this guy felt like a zoo animal, because if his assignment was to go to the zoo, his job was to come back with zoo pictures that nobody had ever seen before. But it did bother him that TV crews had already covered this story.

The Rabbi was trying to make conversation with a young black man who believed he had a Jewish Grandmother and wanted to find out what that might mean. The Rabbi didn't speak Spanish, and the Cuban black guy didn't speak English and certainly not Yiddish or Arabic- the Rabbi was originally from Morocco. . I was able to translate the most important question, which was to determine that the grandmother was the mother of his mother and not the mother of his father, but then they found a language in common- Russian! Seems that the black guy had been a medical technician who had even been to Moscow. Maybe's he's in Jerusalem by now, or leading Synagogue services on some small college campus, wherever they sent him.

Before we went home, the Rabbi asked us if we were coming back to Davven Shacharit, and since he was inviting, we did the whole thing all over again in the morning. By now David had 80 rolls in the can and was beginning to feel that he was going to accomplish something.

And that's how it went for the next few days, until we caught our plane to Santiago on the morning before Yom Kippur. We went back to the Sephardic Synagogue for Shabbat, and back to Luis' house a few times, and back to the Orthodox Shul, and over to the place where the chickens were sometimes slaughtered according to, if not the most stringent supervision, at least by someone who had learned from someone the right way to slaughter a chicken. And we had plenty of time to take pictures of everyday life in Cuba. As always happens we met many incredible people. One of the doormen of the hotel Lido had an uncle who used to be one of Fidel's official photographers. This doorman was also a wedding photographer, so the three of us went over to the uncle's where I wanted to talk about Fidel. The former official photographer described him as being pretty much like Dr Springer, not really appreciative of anything that went on around him.

"Raoul, on the other hand, was always a good man," said the uncle. I don't care what people say. He treated us all like human beings. Always friendly, knew everybody's name. Not at all like his brother". And even though I am crazy about Cuba, and would have loved to have heard more, these other three were crazy about photography, and stayed up for hours talking about solutions, and what to use if the right kind of silver wasn't available, and how to create your own emulsifier out of household chemicals. They left good friends, and promised to share their work in the future, in order to try to bring the art of photogarphy to an even higher level.

Santiago was the Jewish community that I knew pretty well. I am at least an honorary member of the shul, and I may even be a voting member, because I think I once gave them a donation which might cover synagogue dues for the next several years. Not that I am such a big donor, but the dues are very small, since they are payable in Cuban pesos. They have even given me a nickname there, because over the years I have taught them a few melodies for the closing hymn 'Adon Olam. They call me, 'Miguel Adon Olam', which is strictly speaking, a variety of blasphemy, because it means 'Miguel, Master of the World'. This is a direct refutation of Maimonides' 13 principles of faith, and even a slap at the Shema, which proclaims that there is only one Master of the Universe. Actually, though, it is more likely that this nickname is without theological significance, and results only from the fact that I have a Teutonic surname, and no Latino is ever very good at pronouncing German names. There are linguists who claim that German and Spanish are both very beautiful languages, although there seems to be some kind of unresolved contradiction in this assertion. Well, I suppose it is possible to appreciate the birdsong of the crows as well as the nightingales.

Years before, when I went to Santiago the very first time, while I was staying at the home of the pimiento widow in Vista Allegre, I naturally had asked the people I would meet if there was any such thing as a Jewish Synagogue in Santiago de Cuba. Cubans on the street are very polite, and they prefer to not disappoint anyone who is asking for information. One person became very excited when I told him that I was looking for Jews, because he knew a Jewish family and would be happy to lead me on such an important mission. We walked to an outlying area of the city, and when we got to the house it turned out that the family was from Lebanon. It was a close call, and that encouraged me. Others told me that there was an entire community of Jews living in a place called el Cobre 15 miles out of town. This made me suspicious because Jews usually live at the center of things and would probably not be out living in the mountains somewhere. Another time I asked a woman working in the tourist offices if she knew of any Jews, and she assured me that she herself was Jewish! We talked about the religion a little, and she didn't seem to know very much about it, and then it turned out that by "Jewish' she meant that she had never been baptized. All of the unbaptized people are called 'Judios'. I even saw a few young girls walking around town with star of David necklace. At first I would accost them and ask if they were Jewish, but these girls didn't know what I was talking about, and so I learned that they wore this particular six pointed jewelry because they liked it and not for any other reason. I even found somebody who was walking around with a coca cola tee shirt with the words 'coca kola' written in Hebrew, but this shirt had been given to him by a friend from Canada. For the life of me, I couldn't find any evidence of a single Jew anywhere in the city, although I asked around pretty regularly. I had to go to all the way to Havana where the Jews there gave me the address of the Synagogue in Santiago. Actually it was Naomi at the Patronato, always helpful, who had given me this address. Perhaps Dr Springer would have given it to me as well, after a satisfactory interview.

David and I now had a long friendly interview with my friend the President of the Santiago Synagogue, and her two children, the eldest of whom was now pregnant. A few years before I had been appointed judge of the Queen Esther competition during Purim, and I had voted for this daughter, a little bit before she celebrated her Quince. . To be honest, the judging was fixed, because I had been given some suggestions as to who should be elected , since I was an outsider who might not know the fairest way to confer these honors. There were less than ten young girls in the Synagogue, so everyone was Queen Esther at least once, when her turn came around. Perhaps, however, I could have selected a different girl. Since the power had truly been vested in me, that other Queen Esther would then have served for the entire year, and the President's daughter would have had no recourse except to sulk a little at the ubiquity of capricious injustice. That's the way the world is-Young Queen Esther one year, pregnant with a first child just a little bit later.


We visited all of my friends, starting with Jose Almeida, the schoolteacher who had taught himself enough of the prayer book to lead the services, and Adela Brynszteyn, the woman doctor, born in Hungary, who was just about to take off for Israel when the paperwork came through. Her name indicates that she was probably a distant cousin of Trotsky, who was born Bronstein. Adela was a little bit Trotsky like, in that she at first appeared to be loyal to the system, while objecting to certain parts of it. Adela lived in Vista Alegre with her old mother near the Hotel Santiago where I used to live when I first came to Santiago, and she had a car that had been awarded to her for International medical service someplace in Africa. Before I knew better, I used to ask her if she could give me a ride from her house to the Synagogue and back. She had to explain that this was impossible, since the government might think that she was an illegal taxi driver taking a tourist someplace for money. It seemed a little unreasonable to me that two members of the same Church couldn't ride in the same car on Shabbat , since I don't think the intention of the State was to enforce a variation on the Rabbinic prohibition against driving on Shabbat in general . But this doctor had been involved in the emigration process for years and didn't want to take any chances.

Of the approximately one hundred Jews that had lived in Santiago when I first started going there, about twenty five had already moved to Israel. This was part of the quiet negotiations that had taken place between Israel and Cuba. I'm not sure exactly what as in it for Cuba, except maybe Fidel had been paying attention when all the Jewish troublemakers had started such a clamor back in the Soviet Union. Jews are always joking about everything, even when they are making trouble, and perhaps Fidel didn't want these few Cuban Jews to start inventing Jewish Fidel jokes that might spread first to the Lebanese Cubans, and then to the Chinese Cubans, and who knows where it could end?

The Jewish medical community was leaving faster than anyone else. In addition to this Hungarian Cuban Doctor, a pharmacist, and a nurse, and another doctor, and a medical technician had also left the country, along with their entire families. Amazingly, the Jews kept graduating new doctors almost as fast as the old doctors were leaving. This was also the case of Synagogue service leaders. Just as soon as a young man or woman learned how to lead the Friday night or Saturday morning service- off they went to Israel. I would like to be able to say that these young Zionist Jews were inspired by their new-found love of the Hebrew language, and wanted to live in a place where they could speak Hebrew or at least Yiddish every day. I think, however, that there may have been other reasons. Actually, the Spanish word "Ay" is a very close cognate of the Yiddish word "Oy", and this could be the basis for the affinity that these young Cuban Jews had for the Semitic languages, since both these words are used so often. 'Ay,ay,ay!' has almost the same meaning as '"Oy, oy oy!".

Incidentally, it is vile propaganda that Cuban medical professionals are not allowed to leave the country without compensating the Cuban Government for the free medical education that the revolution gladly provides. The Miami Mafia likes to spread all sorts of malicious anti-Cuba stories. Yes, it is true that when Adela went for one of her interviews, the subject of her free medical education was raised by the Cuban authorities. Adela was almost sixty years old, so she simply noted that she had been serving the people of Cuba as a doctor for more than thirty years, and had also gone off to Africa almost when the Cubans began their foreign policy of doctor diplomacy. In her opinion, therefore, she had pretty much paid for the free medical education that had been provided. The Cuban authorities were convinced by the reasonableness of this argument, and never again asked for reimbursement, perhaps because Adela had done her part for the Federation of Women and the Comittee for the Defense of the Revolution. .

Naturally Adela had to leave her car and house behind so they could be turned over to other people who also wanted to contribute to the development of society. These are the rules, and every nation strives to live by the rule of law, and not the rule of man. The biggest problem with the anti-Cubans in Miami is that they are always exaggerating, like claiming that doctors always have to compensate the State for their education. Maybe this is sometimes true, but I am here as a witness that it is an indignity to claim that it is always true.

Adela would be permitted to leave the country with fifty pounds of personal possessions, which is almost a full pound for every year that she had been alive. I suppose that there are many people like Adela who have in the course of their lives collected various knickknacks that might weigh more than fifty pounds all together. Actually, most of the things that we seem to want to carry from place to place are superfluous, as the people who have hired moving vans have often learned to their chagrin. Why schlep everything from here to there when we can just as easily buy new things where we are going? But many of us, like Adela, are incorrigible pack rats, and it was difficult for Adela to decide whether she should take letters from her childhood, or a few nice dresses, or perhaps medical manuscripts that she had written. I want to confess here, since I am writing this story as we are approaching yet another Yom Kippur, that I helped Adela break one of these minor Cuban statutes. I agreed to take all of her dresses with me out of the country, and mail them to her later, so she could take her manuscripts, which was really not necessary, since dresses can be purchased almost everywhere in Israel. I am not sure why people have so many sentimental attachments, but it is just another human weakness for which we should probably repent. I consider the fact that I essentially smuggled these dresses out of the country to be a minor sin, like wearing a shirt that is a mixture of wool and linen. Although I am also cognizant of the point of view that it is beyond our ability to weigh the sins against God in their proper proportion, which is why eating lobster may very well be as serious as slander against Dr Springer. By extension metaphysically, it may also be true that breaking a small ordinance and statute of the State, such as smuggling out dresses, may be every bit as serious as buying and selling tomatoes, or hiring your neighbor to do some masonry work, or even inventing a Jewish Fidel joke. Both the Heavens and the State may have a perspective that ordinary people are incapable of understanding.


David and I visited many other people, such as the Synagogue President's sister, who was ashamed to invite us into her kitchen because the paint was peeling and the building was dingy in general. This made the picture much more desirable to David, because perhaps this photo of the Jewish woman in her best dress holding a dirty rag in the dingy kitchen might be exactly what the New York Times wanted. He took an entire roll of film of this embarrassed woman in her kitchen, hoping for the best.
In Santiago de Cuba, we were of course staying at my wife's sister's house near the junction of Trocha and the road that goes off to the Spanish fort protecting the harbor. Efigenia, whom everyone called Fifi, had left her husband Fidencio soon after he sold the family refrigerator so he could spend money on one of his girlfriends. It seems that many of the Cubans in Cuba can't stick to the normal conventions of respectable society, like going out with your girlfriends in the middle of the day, returning home every evening, and spending your own money for beer, or dresses. Just like the Cubans in Miami, they seem to have a compulsion to cross the lines of honesty by their exaggerated behavior. Fifi was now living with her14 year old son Erlin, and her communist sister's 13 year old negra daughter Yulia, and whoever happened to be visiting. There were two bedrooms in the house, so there was room for everybody, including David and I, since everyone else would stay in the other bedroom. But since David had never left the United States before, he was not accustomed to normal Cuban housing. He had perhaps seen the slums of North Philly, and probably had even taken many pictures of negroes living in houses with plywood over all the windows. But he had never lived in any of these houses, and it was surprisingly difficult for him to acclimatize. Of course my wife and I had already purchased many luxuries for this house, like the Chinese manufactured washing machine, and the Korean manufactured television, and the VCR that we had brought over back when it was still legal to bring VCR's into the country. We had even given Fifi the money to buy a large fish tank and fill it with tropical fish, which is surely a measure of solid middle class status. But David was fixated on some of the cockroaches and the many flies. He even mentioned to me that in his opinion the house was dirty. This was a slander against Fifi, who spent hours every day washing the floors with a rag at the end of a stick, and scrubbing the counter tops, and cleaning out the bathroom in the courtyard on the other side of the open patio- about as close to indoor plumbing as you can get. I think he was unnerved by the flies most of all, and jumped to the conclusion that flies are only found in places that are dirty. But there was a pig living in the house next door, in the patio next to our patio next to the bathroom, and you could see this pig through some of the holes in the wall between our patios. Naturally garbage was always being thrown in the patio, because the whole purpose of having a pig was so that he could eat and get fat and produce more pork. The desire for meat led to the pig in the patio and the garbage and the flies in an inexorable and logical chain of events that David was unable to grasp. Perhaps in the end he could have put up with the flies, but when I took him to the bathroom, and showed him the tin bucket that ordinary people use to pour cold water over their head, and also to pour into the toilet tank so that everything would run underground until it came out somewhere, perhaps in a municipal treatment area or perhaps in a gutter along a hilly street, I suppose he became homesick. He took many pictures of everyone in the family, as we were clowning around, talking about sex, or who was getting married to someone from outside the country and when this person come to visit. Or which dollar store might have a certain type of light bulb available, or on which corner of the city of Santiago someone would have to wait in order to find a man who knew how to make a duplicate copy of a certain kind of key. We continued with our normal conversations, laughing and shouting, and David walked all around the house taking our picture from various angles, and taking pictures of the pig from the hole in the patio wall, and taking pictures of the bathroom, and perhaps trying to take pictures of the flies. Remember, he did have an extensive background in sports photography which essentially involves high speed action and careful timing. He also had some very sophisticated photography equipment with him, so I am fairly certain that he could indeed snap an action photo of a Cuban fly buzzing around, or perhaps a fly being swatted by Fifi with the fly swatter we had brought over from America, just at the very moment that the swatter and the fly collided, capturing forever the drama of the moment and something of the personality of this particular fly. I realize that this photo would not fit into the particular assignment on 'The Jews of Cuba', although if Fifi had been Jewish perhaps this photo would have been acceptable by extension. Nonetheless, photographers take pictures for the same reason that alcoholics drink alcohol, and can invent any kind of plausible excuse after the fact for doing what they want to do.

But after he took all these pictures, David insisted that we go somewhere he could take a shower without any pig nearby. I tried to explain to Fifi that some Americans are just a little bit queasy, and she was a good sport about it all, even understanding, although with difficulty, that David could not eat any of the dinner she had prepared, not for religious reasons, but because he believed that he was less likely to become ill if he stuck to bottled water and the dinner she had prepared was cooked in regular water. Well, I smoothed everything out, since this was after all my job, and then David and I walked up the hill to visit my friends Victor and Victoria who had a nice bathroom with no pigs around.

Victor and Victoria were both believing Christians. In the old days Victoria had been a nurse, and that had given her the right to have a telephone installed in her house. This is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, when you want to call somebody in Cuba, or more likely, somebody's neighbor so they can run off and find the person you want to talk to, you don't have to go to one of your neighbor's houses and ask to use the telephone if you have one of your own. But on the other hand, all of your neighbors have to come to your house if they want to call the neighbors of one of their friends. Fortunately, Cubans are a neighborly people, and therefore the advantages for having a phone, and all the company that comes with it, far outweighs the disadvantages that come from what we north Americans might consider an invasion of privacy. The waiting list for new phones, which are installed by the government for free, is about five years long.

Victor was a math teacher at a high school about an hour commute from his home. And since he was a very rigid Christian, he didn't believe in stealing, not even from the government. Of course, math teachers don't have the opportunity to steal very much anyway. Bakers can steal eggs or cooking oil, doctors can steal the cotton that medicine is wrapped in, cigar rollers are set for life, but math teachers can only steal chalk, which is not in very great demand. This may have reinforced his Christian abhorrence of thievery. Victor and Victoria had only been married for a few years, although they were both in their forties, and many of Victoria's friends and family advised her to get rid of this useless husband who was such a poor provider and find someone that could contribute a couple of dollars every once in a while. It was all very frustrating for Victor, who knew that he was completely useless, practically speaking, since few of his students were really all that interested in quadratic equations. Sometimes he would try to control his frustrations by talking about the Bible, but other times his emotions would get the best of him, and one time he left the house with a kitchen knife complaining about the squash seller in the marketplace who had cheated him. Since he was a math teacher he had been able to review the transaction over and over in his mind, converting kilos of squash into Cuban pesos, and the solution to the equation was always that he was a few kilos of calabazas short. Fortunately the squash seller was already gone, and the neighbors reported that he had left the house furious, and Victoria was able to remind him to think about what would Jesus do? Probably not go after the cheats in the marketplace with a knife, from the information we have available.

We both took a shower in Victoria's house, and listened to a few Christian Fidel jokes, and then I found David a place to stay in a private home, because I could see that otherwise he would not be able to focus properly on his assignment.

Yom Kippur morning services began early. The Synagogue, which in the Soviet days had been converted to a storage area for one of Santiago's carnival bands, was not exactly full, but all of the seats were taken. Jose Almeida was the service leader, since he had taught himself and had also taught a few generations of service leaders who had already gone on to Israel. The entire community showed up, on time, even though no chicken would be served until after sunset. Even a few Jews from some of the outlying towns had left the afternoon before to assure themselves of transportation to Santiago. There were about seventy of us in all.

Jose was a good service leader although unfortunately he didn't know many of the special high holiday melodies. We proceeded, a little mechanically, through every prayer in the Spanish prayer books which had been donated from a congregation in California. There weren't enough prayer books to go around, but there were a few for every row, so we could pass them back and forth and keep up.

The morning service ended at about noon, and we were told that the afternoon service would begin again at around four. But nobody went anywhere, because there was nowhere to go. One of the Jews from Turkey bragged about his house in Vista Allegre, and invited us to visit so he could show us how well he was doing. Other Jews talked about the latest information from the Jews who had gone to Israel, and the details involved in obtaining a visa. Was it really such a good idea to leave a tropical paradise behind and start all over again in a desert country surrounded by enemies who were already blowing up busses and killing people in market places?

I had prepared a small study period for the period between the morning and the afternoon services. I talked about the prophet Jonah, an ordinary man who was too depressed to do what he had been told and who preferred to sleep in the bottom of a boat that was about to be blown apart by a storm. This story features the first Jewish psychiatrist, God, who at the end of the story puts Jonah on the couch and says, "So, you're telling me that you are really angry?" God is trying to show Jonah that depression is really anger directed within, thereby giving guidance to all the psychiatrists who followed. But Jonah has a difficult time admitting that he is angry, until the very end, when God provokes his anger by creating a gourd to give him shade and then kills the gourd. God the psychiatrist is able to illustrate his superior understanding of the subconscious and the unconscious and the collective unconscious with special effects unavailable to the ordinary psychiatrists. The lesson of my analysis was that depression was normal for people who lived in frustrating times, and that part of the significance of Yom Kippur was that we had to fight against depression, even from the belly of a large fish, if need be. I also talked about the story of Abraham and Isaac, which is also appropriate to the Days of Awe. In this story God appears to take the role of a capricious dictator, telling an old man to kill his favorite son, in order to test the old man's loyalty. I presented the Rabbinic arguments to the effect that capricious dictators should never be blindly obeyed, even when they speak with the voice of God. Here again, God, in his role as the very patient teacher, working with a class room of students who are a little disinterested and a little bit slow, has to demonstrate by theatrical roll playing that the dictator who says 'take your son and kill him' should not be obeyed. This little drama was staged so that future generations of dictator worshippers would remember that the true Master of the Universe is opposed to mindless destruction, even though it appears in the story that He is in favor. At the very end of the story, God takes off the greasepaint and explains very patiently, once again, that we are not really supposed to kill our children after all. And to be fair, I did admit that this particular interpretation is a minority report, and that the majority believe that God should always be obeyed, even when he acts as a capricious dictator, up until the very last moment when God changes His mind.

I concluded my sermon with a quote from Pirke Avot, the sayings of our fathers. 'Who is a wealthy man? He who is content with what he has. And who is a poor man? He who is not content with what he has". In other words, there has always been suffering, and shortages of toilet paper and cooking oil, and the best we can do is reflect on the good things that we have, and not be forever ungrateful.

And to the cynical people who think that I was trying to inject a discussion of Cuban politics into a Yom Kippur sermon, you should know that I have given the same sermon in other places. Some things that seem to be related to other things are simply coincidental.

When my part of the discussion was over, we went back to talking about the world situation, and David went back to snapping photos. Technically this is forbidden on Yom Kippur, but the Santiago Synagogue is fairly liberal in some respects, or maybe they were just making an exception for my cousin and I.
When the formal part of the service began again, Jose led us at first, through the Torah reading and the Amidah, and then announced that the next part of the service would be led by Adela, who had been studying Hebrew for her upcoming move to Israel.

"This may be my last time in this Synagogue" announced Adela. 'Because I got the final papers yesterday afternoon. I'm leaving for Havana in a few days, and leaving for Israel as soon as I get a ticket!" And everyone offered their congradulations, because we knew how much she wanted to go to Israel.
"So for the last time, I have the honor of being with the Jewish community, and praying together. Ruth Adler will be taking over the pharmacy, at least until she gets her visa! You all know how much this community has meant to me, and how I will never forget any of you!"

It was clear that she was very emotional about having to leave us. And then she began to pray, with us joining in, "Our God and God of our fathers, Forgive us, Pardon us, Allow us to repent!" And after the prayer that says, "We are thy vineyard, and thou art our Keeper, We are thy subjects, and Thou art our King" , she began the next prayer, which starts out in Hebrew- 'Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu' and so forth, alphebetically in the Hebrew alphabet, with one sin for every letter. But after the first sin, ashamnu, which means, 'we have acted treasonably' she started to cry and stopped the prayer in the middle! We thought that she was simply overcome, and encouraged her to continue, but then she surprised us all by saying, through her sobs, that she did not want to continue!

Jose assured her that we could wait for her, but Adela then declared, cryptically, that she did not feel that she was worthy of saying this prayer! This led to a little bit of commotion, because, why shouldn't she be as worthy as anybody else?

"You know that I have been living in Cuba almost all of my life" She began to explain. "And I have done everything that was necessary for me to do. And some of the things that were necessary- well, I wish that they had not been necessary. I was in a position where I felt I had no choice, but I do not feel that I am able to lead the community in this prayer, because of some of the things that I have done".
And she took off her tallit, and gave the Bimah back to Jose Almeida, and went back to her seat, crying silently

And my cousin David, who likes to joke about everything, said, 'What's the matter- were you a spy or something?"

And everyone became quiet, except Adela, who sobbed a little bit more, until the President of the Synagogue reproached David, for the first and only time, by saying, in broken English, because she didn't want to be misunderstood through any translation, or because she wanted to speak to David directly. "David" she said, -"there are some things that we don't talk about. I'm sorry, but you don't live here. I'm very sorry if I am not able to explain"

The silence that followed was uncomfortable, but then Jose Almeida came to everyone's rescue.
"You know, what is interesting about this prayer, ashamnu, is that all the sins are listed in the plural- We have acted treasonably, we have acted aggressively, We have acted slanderously, and so forth. And I have been reading- we all repeat all these sins- but can it really be that each of us is guilty of them all? Better to say, that each of us might be ashamed of our personal sins, and would be unable to continue. And so we read all the sins together, supporting each other, because all of us together have been guilty of each of these sins. We are judged as individuals, but we need the sympathy and the understanding of everyone in order to be able to repent. And so, let us continue this prayer together, knowing that each of has done less than we could have done. And that this next year, may it be God's will, we can remember this moment of Yom Kippur, as the Days of Awe come to a close, and be worthy of being written in the Book of Life!"

He spoke exactly like a Rabbi! We were all very proud of him. And with a little more encouragement, Adela came back to the podium, and led us through the rest of the prayer, through her tears.

The service ended at sundown, and we all joined together for a break the fast dinner. David rushed around taking pictures again, and Adela and everyone else were laughing, and grateful that we had lived another year and had been maintained, almost miraculously, to this season.

The very next day David and I went back to Havana, where we took some pictures of Jews sitting in the temporary booths of Succot surrounded by gourds and tree branches. In Havana the roofs and walls of the Succah are sometimes made of sugar cane. We also took some more pictures of the Rabbi from New Orleans holding a palm branch and a citron and the willow and myrtle sprigs, each of which is an important accessory to the celebration of this holiday.

And a day later we were back in Montreal and then Vermont. That's how quickly people can leave one world and enter another completely different world.

As it turned out, the New York Times never published any of David's photos. Perhaps the story was not quite as hot as we had been led to believe, seeing as a few TV crews had already covered it. Or perhaps a camera is not quite capable of capturing remorse, or repentance, or any of the emotions we feel it should be able to capture.


The trip was not a total loss for David, because he was able to sell an article about a photographer standing in front of the capitolio that we met on our last day in Havana. This photographer was using some type of photographic process that went almost all the way back to Daguerre, one of the first photographers. David sold this article to a technical photography magazine, because nobody had known that this ancient technique was still being utilized somewhere in the world. This article just about paid for David's travel expenses, so he was happy to have gained the experience, and the photos. Even the photos were not lost, because he was able to donate them to the web page called 'The Jews of Cuba". I can refer anyone to these photos if you really want to see them.

From what I heard, Dr Springer is still head of the Jewish Community in Cuba. Some people, like Moses, or like Fidel himself, have so many responsibilities that an entire lifetime is necessary to complete their appointed work.

Luis, the old Jew who we met outside the Synagogue, died just last year. Sadly, I have temporarily misplaced the tape of the symphony that he had written, without ever even hearing it. It is not impossible that this symphony is a lost masterpiece, and will be recognized as such by the entire world, when I go through all of my old casette tapes and manage to find it. Stranger things have happened.

Adela was able to emigrate to Israel with out any problem. But I recently heard that a few years later, she managed to move once again, with her aged mother, to New York! It seems that her professed love for the State of Israel may have been a strategic tactic. Or possibly she simply changed her mind, and preferred to spend her later years in a country that spoke English, with lots of Spanish heard on the streets, instead of a country where the most important languages are Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic, and Russian. I'm sure that we all can forgive her, to the very same extent that she was able to forgive herself for whatever it was that caused her to cry on Yom Kippur, and to the same exact extent that she has been able to forgive all of us for all of the disappointments, and little treacheries, and misunderstandings, that we have caused her to endure.

















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