Chabad Friends of Cuban Jewry (CFCJ) recently welcomed back its multiple emissaries; Rabbi Moshe and Rivkah Korf of Crown Heights, Ephraim Merovich of Toronto, Canada and Levi Wilansky of Portland, Maine.
The activists, accompanied by Dovid Farin of the organization’s Student Placement Program (SPP), were sent to bring the Pesach spirit to less fortunate Jews living in remote areas in the island country.
They brought with them hand-baked Shmurah Matzah, kosher wine and other Pesach goods and delicacies, all in addition to the Spanish translated haggadot and beautiful Passover guides.
The representatives of the Canadian-based organization visited the capital of Havana, where the most significant amount of Jews reside, as well as 17 cities and towns across the island (across a 900km strip).
They held multiple events and activities arranged over the Yom Tov, which included communal sedarim in Havana and Camaguey, located in the center of the island.
“They were very successful in their multiple missions, as every Jewish home in this 900km strip was personally visited,” said Rabbi Shimon Aisenbach, Director of Chabad Friends of Cuban Jewry, quoting the prophecy: “And you, the house of Israel, will be gathered one by one.”
Below are some quotes from the diary of the Shluchim to the interior, with their permission:
We arrived Monday afternoon [in Cuba] in the small city Holguin, which was actually the first on our list, we get in to our 1951 taxi fill up the trunk with all the Pesach supplies and headed out to visit the few Jewish families in this city bringing them their Pesach kits prepared for them (by the CFCJ) the shmurah matzah wine gefilteh fish and much Pesach goodies, we shared with them a thought on Pesach.
As we get to the house we were greeted with much excitement and emotion and the family starts telling us how they were anticipating our arrival and how they were hoping we would come before Pesach and prepare them for the holiday. As we left we put on Teffilin with those over bar- mitzvah, one of them (who was quite older in age) after we finished reciting the Shema started crying and he motioned to us that he would like to show us something so we followed him to his room and he takes a very old siddur from his shelf and he tells us that this book is what’s giving him comfort while he’s living in Cuba.
Being that we were there for 10 days and we had to cover 900 kilometers in distance visiting (additional to the Shluchim in Havana) about 15 cities and towns we made sure to strategize with the goal: prior to Pesach every Jewish family on the island receives there Pesach kit accordingly.
We traveled along and went from city to city visiting Jewish families, in some cases we had to drive 4 hours just to visit one family. I remember in fact one city we came to after a good 5 hour drive we pulled up to their home at 11:30 at night and they were so excited to see us that she told us up until we came despite always counting on the CFCJ for their year round educational and humanitarian supplies she was anxious about not being able to celebrate Pesach (being that she didn’t have the wine and matzah). As we were going through the house I noticed something very interesting, as decoration they have on the wall a box of matzah and she explained to us that that’s her source of pride.
To note in Guantanamo after much searching we found an additional Jew (which was not on our list) who is 82 years old and we put on Teffilin with him for the first time and gave him the kit to appreciate the joy of Pesach.
For Shabbos we decided to spend in a city called Santiago de Cuba with a family that only the father is Jewish. We came to his house we koshered his kitchen, and we decided we’re going to do Shabbos right, so we cooked a lot of food and set a table cloth and Shabbos candles and in the words of the family “our father has never been happier.”
It was definitely a remarkable sight to see a Jew in a small Cuban house with no air conditioning with a kippa Friday night holding a kiddush cup repeating word for word of the kiddush and with an inner joy celebrating the Shabbos. He was telling his family how he remembers his grandparents’ home in Turkey, how they were proud of their Judaism. We only realized how much our visit meant to him when, after Shabbos, as our bus left we peeked out the window. We then glimpsed our – by now – good friend Orestos (in Hebrew Mordechai) standing alone on the sidewalk crying.
For Pesach we went to a city called Camaguey, in the center of the island and we visited 8 families. We invited them all to join us at our Pesach Seder which we held in a house that we rented near the center of the city.