Mission to Cuba

Yaldeinu’s Emerging Leaders Development Mission to Cuba gave supporters the opportunity to volunteer with the Cuban Jewish Community and tour one of the most interesting countries in the world. Held from April-11-18, 2010, the Mission included hands on service activities, delivery of donated goods such as medical supplies and clothing to the elderly and authentic Cuban recreational activities. Mission participants also spent their days with young adults from the Cuban Jewish Community who are being sponsored by Yaldeinu’s summer camp exchange program.

The Cuban Jewish Community has experienced a cultural renaissance in recent years. Yaldeinu remains committed to bringing young Cuban Jews to summer camps in Canada and hosting service missions to Havana on an annual basis


Alexandra Bronfman, 23. Toronto, ON

I now know that in Cuba, there lives a vibrant and passionate Jewish community.  With less than 1500 Jewish people across the entire country, the Cuban Jews show the meaning of Tikun Olam.  On Wednesday afternoon, the women in the community join together to make Challah for each family, while on Friday night the community gathers to share in a Shabbat, followed by a Havadallah ceremony on Saturday.

Our group has been lucky enough to witness Yom Hashoa in Cuba.  The young people in the community organized a memorial which included readings of the memoirs of Anne Frank and dancing.  Prior to leaving for Cuba, I participated in a Toronto memorial for Yom Hashoa.  In that ceremony, in a community with approximately 200,000 Jews, a few hundred people attended.  While Havana, a community with 900 had almost as many participants.

The Cuban community has further revealed the true meaning of unity.  Their passion and dedication to daily Mitzvot is contagious. Whether they are providing medication, encouraging the youth to partake in traditions or providing nurturing care to the elderly, this community enables each other and protects one another. It is truly inspiring.

Romy Pilarski, 28. Toronto, ON

One week ago, I left Toronto really excited to visit Cuba for the first time, to see the sights of Havana and to spend some time with the small Jewish community that we had heard so much about.  One week later, I am about to leave Cuba, after visiting for the first time, seeing the sights of Havana and spending some time with one of the most incredible Jewish communities in the world.

I feel humbled to have been able to get to know some of the people in this very small, yet very dynamic and vibrant Jewish community. Each person we met was so friendly and warm, so welcoming and so genuinely happy to host us in their homes, their centre and their country. From William Miller, the vice president of the Patronato and the young leaders of the community, who made us feel like royalty, to the people who we went to visit and take care packages of medicine, food and clothes to, who so proudly took us on tours of their very humble homes, invited us in for Cuban coffee and cookies, and gave us hugs and kisses when we left. Each person I have met and spent time with over the course of this week has left an indelible mark in my heart and in my mind.

The Cuban Jewish Community can show the rest of the Jewish world what it means to be totally committed and dedicated to Judaism. The love and passion for being Jewish that the members of this community portray is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The Cuban Jewish community may be small in numbers but in love for, passion and commitment to being Jewish, they are larger than life!

Josh Gurza, 25. Toronto, ON

This mission has been significant for me because it has not only drastically changed my perspective on what’s important in my own life, but it has also changed my view on what it means to be Jewish and the importance of belonging to and participating in the Jewish community on a local and global scale.

One of the many great qualities that I have come to realize about the global Jewish community is that no matter where you are on the planet, Jewish people all have a common bond that makes us feel comfortable and safe in a very short period of time. Jewish people can identify with each other beyond language barriers and develop instant rapport with one another despite a lack of easily identifiable physical and cultural commonalities. Within several days of arriving in Cuba I have made a number of new Jewish friends, learned about what it means for them to be Jewish, as well as seen and listened to some of the obstacles that many of them have overcome in order to practice Judaism in Cuba. It is incredible to me that many members of the Jewish youth want to be Jewish and want to be part of this special community regardless of what their parents think or tell them, and will put enormous amounts of effort to engage not only their peers, but the aging Jewish community as well. They realize that it is up to them to carry on the traditions that are fading fast from a society that has only recently been able to freely practice religion.

Today I traveled around the suburbs of Havana delivering essential supplies to Jewish families that either do not have the money to pay for them or do not have the physical capability to go and get them.  It was an experienced that humbled me.

The Cuban Jewish community has clearly been evolving and growing in recent history, however there is still much that is required to sustain a long term Jewish community. They are heavily reliant on donations and it will be a number of years before they can be a self-reliant Jewish community. Youth educating other youth in the traditional practices of Judaism is an important step that is being taken to sustain the religion here in Cuba and should continue as long as possible.  I am glad that we have come on this mission to learn and help and I hope that others will travel here and realize how important and special it is to be a part of the Jewish religion.

See our Itinerary