Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba by Ruth Behar 2007

"To capture and share such intimate stories while preserving their tellers’ dignity requires artistry. Behar has it, and her readers are the luckier for that." From a review by Joel Streicker in the Forward of 5/22/08

Ruth Behar, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and a receiver of a MacArthur (“genius”) award, has written this fascinating memoir/history/photo-journalism account of returning to Cuba, the place of her birth. Behar discusses her own family’s history as a thread of a larger migration pattern and uses her expertise as an anthropologist to document signs of the former thriving Cuban Jewish community as well as to document the remnant of the Jewish community that remained in Cuba after the revolution when most Jews fled to America or Israel.
Highly readable, Behar's book also traces the arc of the Jewish presence in Cuba, the influence Cuba has had on its Jewish population, the influence the Jewish population has had in Cuba, and the relationship that Jewish institutions outside of Cuba have with today’s Cuban Jews.

This book includes about 200 photographs by Humberto Mayol of Cuban Jews who posed in their homes and institutions.  It also includes interesting footnotes, a bibliography for further reading, and a very useful chronology of the history of Cuba interwoven with the history of the Jewish presence in Cuba.

Click here if you'd like to see three-minute video of Jewish Cuba, narrated by Steve Kastenbaum, a CNN reporter who visited Cuba, the home of his grandparents.The video includes old family photos as well as some highlights of his trip.

Author’s family on her mother’s side
Maximo and Esther Glinsky – author’s maternal grandparents
    Rebeca – their daughter; author’s mother
Moises and Zoila Levin, author’s maternal great-uncle and aunt
    Henry and Alma – their son and daughter

Author’s family on her father’s side   
Isaac Behar and Rebecca Maya - author’s paternal grandparents; immigrated from Turkey
    Alberto – their son; author’s father
    Ida  – their daughter

Some of the Jewish Cuban residents mentioned, past and present, many photographed
Many named Behar (Bejar), not related to author
Many named Mizrahi
Many from Turkey or descendants of Turkish immigrants: Najmias, Mechuam, Nassy, Esquinazi, Benador, Yaech, Eli, Levy, Tacher, Leon, Soriano

Many from Poland or descendants of Polish immigrants: Gudstadt, Prinstein, Bender Solzstein, Grobart, Oltuski Olsaki, Gutwert, Nudelfuden Perelmuter, Berezniak, Sarusky

Samples of other family names that are a part of the story she tells: Barlia, Cohen, Zagavolov, Grinberg, Tannenbaum, Weiner, Asis, Maimon, Altshuler, Ledierman, Radlow, Zaitman, Mandel, Lapidus, Wolfoicz, Nissenbaum, Braitman, Saul, Miller, Gans, Grin, Friman, Zilberstein

Prominent Cuban Jews
Adela Dworin – president of Jewish Community Council (2007)
Saul Yelin – founder of Cuban Cinema Foundation
Enrique Oltuski Osacki – highest ranking member of Castro’s government

Places, including some photographs
Jewish cemeteries in the following towns:
Guanabocoa; Camajuani, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba, Banes

Havana synagogues: The Patronato, Sephardic Chevet Ahim, Centro Hebreo Sefardi, Adath Israel

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