Jewish Identity in Modern Day Cuba: An Interplay of Continuity and Transformation

Abstract

This poster reports on research which examines the subjective experiences, religious practice, and perceptions of a small purposive sample of Cuban Jews to understand how historical, social, economic, cultural, and political changes and shifts have impacted upon, affected, and shaped the Jewish community of Cuba. We distinguish the individual, idiosyncratic personal meaning of what it signifies to Cubans to be Jewish in today’s Cuba. We note how the subjective experiences of being a Jew in Cuba must be understood as a reflection of historical change that has occurred on the island throughout the course of the 20th century. An emphasis is placed on how the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) used the familiarity of prosocial behavior within Communist ideology to promote prosocial religious and cultural practices among Jewish children and adolescents, ultimately triggering a shift in the way Judaism evolved on the island. The data on which this paper is based come from interviews held with Cuban Jews in the cities of Havana and Santa Clara. We encouraged the persons interviewed to tell their stories of what it means to be Jewish in Cuba today and to describe their Jewish ancestry. We asked them to tell us about how they live their lives, how they practice Judaism, in what ways they subjectively experience their lives as Cuban Jews, and in what ways they felt Cuban, but not necessarily Jewish. There are a variety of historical, educational, and contemporary factors which make the island’s Jewish community an interesting subject of study.

Presenters

Jay Sweifach
Professor, Social Work, Yeshiva University, New York, United States

Details

Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Theme

Religious Community and Socialization

KEYWORDS

Jewish Identity, Cuba, Religious Practice

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