Glimpses of Jewish Cuba
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Last week I visited one of Cuba’s few operating synagogues. It was founded in 1939 by Sephardic Turkish Jews who immigrated to the eastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba in the first decades of the 20th century. Later, they were joined by Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing Nazi persecution.
The synagogue’s doors were shuttered from 1980-1995. I was told that an Argentine rabbi came in the 1990s and helped to revive Jewish life here. Today, roughly two dozen members attend services. Over the years, the Jewish community in Santiago de Cuba has dwindled. People have opted to leave Cuba to make a new life in Israel. Still, according to congregant Emma Levy (pictured below in the flowered dress), as long as there’s one member, the doors of the Santiago de Cuba’s historic synagogue will remain open and Shabbat candles will illuminate the temple’s sanctuary each Friday.
(All photos by Nancy Rosenbaum)
Educational Inequality Divides Israeli Jews
by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Aside from Israel’s ongoing conflict with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, it must also deal with the internal complexities that exist in most modern societies, like immigration and racial discrimination.
An example of this can be seen inside the immigrant and impoverished neighborhood of Katamonim of Jerusalem. There, the Kedma School serves Jewish students that come from countries such as Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq — called Mizrahi Jews. Kedma’s mission is to combat the educational inequality these students face at other schools where the dominant population of students are Jews of Eastern European descent — called Ashkenazi Jews.
It’s a small school for 160 seventh to 12th graders. Many of these Mizrahi students were unpopular at their previous schools. Some say they weren’t accepted socially, seen as outsiders by their classmates and troublemakers by their instructors.
The Kedma School provides smaller class sizes — two teachers for every 26 students — than the typical public school, which has one teacher for more than every 40 students. According to the school’s website, only 10 percent of students from the greater Katamonia community complete high school. Many of these students come from single parent homes and are not encouraged to pursue professional careers in other schools.
Yardena Hamu (pictured above) grew up in this neighborhood and faced the same discrimination as these students. After receiving her bachelors’ degree in art, she returned to be a mentor and teacher at the Kedma School.
Having migrated from Iraq, Hamu can relate to her students. She keeps them motivated as though they were her own children: “We hug them, we kiss them, and we shout at them.”
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.