“My three P’s: passion, patience, perseverance.” – Robert Wise
Last week, my Shabbat message was written and sent after only two days in Cuba! The reasoning was that I did not want to miss a Shabbat (haven’t missed one yet!) and that we were in a hotel that finally had an internet connection that I could use. I was patient…but persevered to get the Shabbat message out! Yet, it was before we truly had a feel for the country and the Jewish community.
Passion, patience and perseverance…all words that can be used for the Jewish communities that we were privileged to be a part of during our week in Cuba. I mentioned last week, that it is not easy to be Jewish…but we met men, women and young adults that demonstrated that when you have the passion for Judaism, that it is possible to create a life filled with mitzvot. Shabbat in Cuba….was meaningful, beautiful, different and welcoming! We all were filled with awe..as we experienced Shabbat, Cuba style. We spent Friday evening with the members and visitors at the Patronato,the largest congregation in Havana. The service was led, beautifully and with participation from the congregation, by two young men. They davened with such kavanah, that it brought tears to our eyes. I was sitting next to a young woman that chanted and sang every single pray, without having a prayer book in her hands. At the conclusion of services, about 20 young adults came up to the front of the bima and led us in the concluding prayers. To watch these youngsters, gave us the understanding that no matter where you are, if you want to be Jewish, you can be!
Shabbat morning, many of us walked to the Sephardic synagogue a few blocks away. We were warmly welcomed and made to feel at home. The young man and woman that davened Shararchit, had us all memorized. The melodies were familiar, the prayers familiar..and we were in Cuba! I was thrilled to be asked to take an aliyah…which will be a highlight of my term of office! To stand in front of the bima and recite thae prayers was extremely moving…and they have a beautiful tradition. After you have recited the second prayer, you stand in front of the ark for a blessing of well being…and then face the congregation when the next person is called up for an aliyah. There were many small differences, that made the service interesting and their own. We had arranged to have Shabbat lunch with the members…and again they all made us feel so welcome. It was so nice to see our group meld with the members of this small congregation. We shared stories, we heard about their lives, and they told us where some of their relatives are…I even met a gentlemen whose son lives here in Tampa! During lunch, each woman in the congregation was personally given a Torah Fund pin..with the story behind it.
In closing…I would just like to share a little story….I was speaking with Lisette, who was our translator during the d’var torah, and I handed her my card. She looked at it, and then said to me, pointing at “conservative Judaism”..that is me….I responded that it is us too…we are together…we share the passion of Conservative Judaism.
As we left Cuba on Monday afternoon…the consensus of the group was that we left with a good feeling…that we made friends within our group..and that we made a little difference to the Jewish community. We donated medicines, clothes and other items. We spontaneously collected money while standing in the Jewish cemetery to restore four graves and as we left our tour bus the front seat was filled with even more donations. I encourage you to check out our Facebook page as pictures are posted.
Wishing each of you a meaningful and peaceful Shabbat.