By Dov Ben-Shimon, JDC Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships
I've just spent the last weekend staffing the JDC Ambassadors Circle Mission to
to see the amazing Jewish community there, learn about our challenges and horizons,
and participate in some unique experiences. I've been to Cuba many times
to show JDC supporters and Ambassadors the work we do, and each time I see
new and inspiring aspects of our work.
This time, three special aspects stood out:
ONE: I saw, once again, how our history shapes our mission and its impact. In the
Havana Airport, I met a young Ukrainian-American
couple, returning from a museum trip to Cuba. When they heard that I work
for the Joint, they both excitedly shared their life stories of being helped by
the Joint to escape the Soviet Union in the 1980s and move through the transit
camps in Europe.
And for those of you who haven't been to
Cuba in the
last year ... the Havana Sephardic Synagogue, in its renovated old-new
sanctuary, has opened a moving and thought-provoking exhibit on the Shoah
(Holocaust). It is educational and incredibly important as a tool for Jews and
non-Jews alike in Cuba.
TWO: I learned, once again, how there is hunger in the Jewish world but there is also a unique thirst. There's real hunger in
Cuba - and we work to provide
nutritional support, challah and milk programs, kosher meals, a chicken dinner
program for the synagogues, and more.
But there's also an amazing thirst, for Jewish knowledge, for community, for involvement. Sitting in the Patronato, the main Conservative synagogue and community center, and watching hundreds of Cuban Jews dancing and praying and eagerly celebrating their Jewish community, is inspiring and humbling. Singing Shabbat melodies, participating in a Havdalah ceremony and watching
dancing, learning about the aspirations and horizons of young Jewish leaders in
the community ... and much more ... shows you the excitement and eagerness for
Jewish life now vibrant in Cuba.
THREE: Finally, I saw, once again the high quality of Jewish leadership in
Cuba. Who would have imagined,
perhaps even five years ago, that we would be looking today at a situation in
which the Joint no longer runs synagogue services, no longer maintains the
overhead and utilities and expenses of the synagogues, the education programs,
has handed over so many areas of responsibility to the Cuban leadership? We say
that we have phase-down programs and discuss the concept of
"kill-switches" in our programs around the world. And in Cuba you can
really see how this has worked, and how this is going to develop in the years
through the eyes of members of the JDC Ambassadors Circle and Society is a
life-changing experience. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to take this
group of warm, committed and philanthropic leaders to see a microcosm of the
Jewish world and the work of the Joint. It has reminded me of why our mission
statement, that all Jews are responsible one for another, is not just a core value,
but also a business plan.