There are currently fewer than 1,500 Jews living in Cuba, with just four functioning synagogues among them.
But it wasn’t always this way: After the 1959 Cuban revolution, more than 90 percent of the country’s 15,000 Jews fled.
Yet what the community lacks in numbers today, it makes up for in steady growth in Cuban cities such as Havana and Santa Clara, says Ariel Goldstein, travel manager for the JCC of San Francisco.
Recently returned from his second JCC-sponsored mission to the communist country, Goldstein will discuss his journey and present his personal slides during “The Cuba You Don’t Know” lecture at the JCCSF at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 7.
The lecture is part of El Camino Judio, a series on Jewish Latin culture currently taking place at the JCCSF.
A panel of JCC directors, including Lectures and Literature Director Barbara Lane, chose the subject of this year’s cross-departmental series.
“Many of us were interested in Latin culture in a Jewish context and the history of the Sephardic Jews,” Lane explains. “It is such a rich, vibrant culture — from art to cuisine to music to travel.”
The El Camino Judio name literally translates to “The Jewish Way,” with “El Camino” usually indicating a roadway or street.
Lane says she sees the series title in a broader sense: “We saw it as the Jewish way in the Latino world, thinking of how Jews live, spread out across that world.”
The series, which began in early October and lasts through mid-February, has already included art exhibits, lectures and Latin cooking courses.
Though there is plenty more to come.
Edith Freeman, a docent at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will give a free lecture on “Soccer, Sweets and Salsa” at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11. The lecture, which also is part of the JCCSF’s monthly Fine Arts Lectures program, will include example of inventions the people of the pre-Columbia Americas contributed to the modern world — bouncy balls, roasted potatoes and hot chocolate, among others.
The JCC also will play host to a bevy of Latin music groups such as Buenos Aires–flavored klezmer musicians the Lerner Mogouilevsky Duo at 8 p.m. Nov. 14, Latin-inspired world music group the Carmen Milagro Band at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and orchestra Tango No. 9 during the “Chanukah in Argentina” holiday dinner at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16.
During the Chanukah event there will be dance instructors on hand to assist attendees interested in learning Latin moves.
There will be two films screened as part of the El Camino Judio series — “My Mexican Shivah” at 12:30 Nov. 13 and “Novia Que Te Vea” at 12:30 Dec. 4. Both events are free to attend.
The last event of the series is a JCCSF-planned group trip to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in February. The young adult trip is already at capacity — something that typically happens pretty quickly when the JCC books trips to Latin America, says Goldstein.
Though the next trip is full, interested parties can learn more about the JCC’s Latin-Jewish missions by attending Goldstein’s Cuba lecture, and perhaps signing on to attend a future trip (he is working on another Cuba trip for May 2010).
Goldstein, who was born in Uruguay, says that people will be surprised to see how many Jews there are in Latin American countries, and how much they appreciate help from the American Jewish community. The JCC has a license to run trips to Cuba to assist those in need by bringing medical supplies, children’s toys and religious materials such as prayer books in Hebrew and Spanish.
“There has been a revival of sort in the past 20 years in the Cuban-Jewish community,” Goldstein says, “with the help of missions by synagogues and JCCs like ours.”
The El Camino Judio series takes place at the JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F., through February 2010. For dates and times of events, visit www.jccsf.org.