American U Students Bond with Cuban Peers
January 30, 2007Comments (0)
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American University students in Cuba.
By Josh Cook
Even with the best intentions it is very hard to get to Cuba from the United States. After literally months of waiting, approval from the United States Treasury Department was granted two days before the fall semester let out. With little time to truly prepare, our group of American University students was off to Cuba for the first week of January, not knowing what we would find.
On January 4 our group left Miami and arrived in Cuba. As we walked out of the Jose Marti airport, everyone was taken aback in awe by the beautiful old Chevrolets parked all across the airport’s parking lot. With the exception of the Latin American hip-hop blasting in the area, Cuba, so far, seemed like it was out of another time period.
“I could not get over the cars when we first arrived. I think more than half of my first hundred photos were of the cars, they were just breathtaking and made me personally feel like I had truly traveled to a different world,” said Liza Meckler, a freshman from San Francisco.
Upon arriving in Havana, we wasted no time in meeting with some members of the Jewish community. The first Jewish Cubans (Jewbans) we met were all in their early to mid twenties, they were all proud active members of their community. Some of the members had just recently had a Brit Milah and others were about to make aliyah to Israel.
“When I heard that these guys a few years older than me had just done their Brit Milah, I was instantly in awe and utter respect for their dedication to Judaism,” said Griffin Greenberg, a sophomore from Philadelphia.
These “Jewbans” would become our friends by the end of the trip, if not by the end of the first evening after a dinner full of conversation and striking commonalities. After just a few hours, everyone on our trip realized we were just like the Jewbans in our humor, our hobbies and our religion. These similarities would help shape our impressions of Cuba for the rest of the trip and allow us to connect with the Jewish world in this foreign place.
“That first night at dinner we were laughing, and at points crying from laughing. That dinner was a great way to help forge a bond which really shaped a large part of our trip in my mind,” said Veronica Hewlett, a freshman from Allentown, Pa.
Our group was lucky enough to meet with many of the Jewish communities in Cuba, from Sephardic to Ashkenazi, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, you name it, we saw it. The communities all welcomed us with open arms. Even when we were seemingly out of place, we always felt right at home. Whatever type of Judaism they practiced, it felt warm and welcoming to us.
“I honestly don’t think I could feel as comfortable as I did in all these types of Jewish houses of worship if I was in the states. Third world country or not they were so welcoming to us and it really hardened parts of my spirituality,” said Hewlett.
The idea of going to Cuba was an intimidating one at best. However, after being there, and finding that religion knows no embargoes, I can honestly say I feel as though I have a new family of 1,500 Jews.
Josh Cook is a freshman at American University.
Religious Freedom Helps Jews in "Hotel Cuba" - Reuters