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Meet the Jews of Havana: The Small but Thriving Cuban Community You Didn’t Know Existed

A tightly-knit Jewish community (1200 people) whose members escaped the Spanish Inquisition and survived Castro's revolution is there to stay, despite the challenges and uncertain future on the island.

There is no Antisemitism in Cuba. The Cuban government celebrates Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights for Jews, every year. This holiday commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 164 B.C. According to tradition, a candelabra was lit with only enough oil for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days. The government participates in Hanukkah with the island’s tiny Jewish community.
Some 1,200 people living in the capital of Cuba identify as Jewish. Much like the city itself, this small but tight-knit community is characterized by many contrasts: Rich in spirit, it is bereft of essential services like quality health care and household goods.
Jewish Cubans, Cuban Jews, or Cubans of Jewish heritage have lived in the nation of Cuba for centuries. Some Cubans trace Jewish ancestry to Marranos, who came as colonists, though few practice Judaism today. More than 24,000 Jews lived in Cuba in 1924, and more immigrated to the country in the 1930s. But during and after the 1959 communist revolution, 94% of the Jews left for the United States and other countries. In 2007 an estimated 1,500 known Jewish Cubans remained in the country, overwhelmingly located in Havana, occasionally called Jubans as a portmanteau of the English word “Jew” and Cuban. Several hundred have since emigrated to Israel.

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