Patricia Neuwirth, who owns Hudson Homes Realty in Tarrytown, joined with seven other people and recently visited Cuba in an effort to support and encourage its small Jewish community.
"There are approximately 1,500 Jews in Cuba out of a population of 11,000,000 people. There are no rabbis because the Jewish Community cannot afford to support them," Ms. Neuwirth said. Rabbinical students from Argentina however versed in Hebrew and Spanish live among the community and provide for religious needs and services. "The Community has never felt persecuted and their religious freedom is widely celebrated. In fact, Havana has 3 synagogues and farther out in the countryside services are held in people’s homes," she added. The people whom Ms. Neuwirth met exhibited tenacity and perseverance, and although they have the opportunity to emigrate to Israel, remain committed to staying in Cuba.
Her overall impressions of Cuba ran the gamut of contradictions from stunning architecture about to simply fall down, to the ongoing renovation of Old Havana (aided by countries like Italy). The myriad of European tourists at beautiful ocean resorts are a stark contrast to life a few miles outside of Havana where people are truly poor. "I saw workers who, I was told, were medical doctors, waiting on tables for about 30 pesos a month," she said.
Though her time in Cuba was short, Patricia Neuwirth came away with a lasting impression of the Cuban people. "Their music and dancing is spectacular. So is the warmth of their friendliness," she said.