The Days of Rum and Cigars

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Last minute photo before takeoff at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, October 22nd: Gail, Dawn, Eliot, and Lois

When Eliot and I passed through customs yesterday at Miami International Airport, one of the security guards asked us, “So how did it feel to vacation in a Communist country?”

For a moment, I felt a sense of terror not knowing what to expect next from this guy who was heavily armed. Luckily, Eliot quickly answered, “I like living here much better.” He smiled, we smiled, and we quickly rolled our luggage away from him. That was the only part of the six day trip where I felt even slightly threatened.

I woke up early this morning and received an email from my young Israeli cousin asking me how safe I felt in Cuba? Are Jews accepted there? First of all, I am no authority on politics, security, or economics. I can only tell you what I experienced.

I met a young Jewish gal in Havana who has a high level job in the arts. She told me that one of the reasons she lives in Cuba is because there is no anti-Semitism and life is simpler, better. While she would migrate to the United States were she to meet a nice Jewish boy, right now she enjoys the closely knit family and community life she leads there. She swore to me she has never experienced an ounce of discomfort.

There are about 1,500 Jewish people in Cuba, 85 percent of whom live in Havana. Most are conservative. Several synagogues are free-standing buildings; others are housed in store-fronts or other available spaces. There is supposedly one Kosher butcher on the entire island. Before Castro, there was a huge Jewish community. Now most of the offspring live in Miami, Dallas, and New York.

After talking to several young folks in the arts (our trip was all about looking for young emerging talent), I have come to the conclusion that for the time being, life in Cuba, on a day-to-day basis, is peaceful with a subtle touch of Communism. Things that are important to me (continuous access to the Internet, the ability to buy the finer things in life, and modern conveniences) are not necessarily what others desire. Those who agree with me left Cuba a long time ago or have an upwardly mobile lifestyle where they are free to travel as much as they want. Most of the artists we met who have received significant recognition from the United States or from other countries are constantly doing road shows but keep their headquarters in Cuba. Artists, musicians, and sports stars are revered in Cuba and live much better than the rest of the Cubans.

Rich or poor, most Cubans in Havana have cellphones. Texting is a big part of their lives. They also love to talk, although their calls are limited to inside Cuba. Despite what anyone tells you, Cubans do have access to the Internet. I am sure many sites are blocked, but at least they are slowly gaining access. The big problem is the cost: five dollars an hour when many Cubans only earn twenty dollars a month. That’s why most workers only access the Internet when they’re at work.

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The Group

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