Cuban-Jewish women make landmark visit to Israel

Visiting Jewish women from Cuba are pictured upon their arrival at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Photo credit: Michael Alvarez-Pereyre.

( Ten Jewish women from Havana, Cuba, arrived in Israel on Tuesday as part of what organizers called an unprecedented nine-day visit sponsored by The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. The trip culminates May 16 with a gathering of more than 800 Jewish mothers from around the world at Bar-Ilan University.

At the mass gathering of Jewish mothers, dubbed the “Momentum Mega Event,” participants will commit to becoming involved in various Jewish-focused and Israel-focused programs when they return home. The Cuban-Jewish mothers’ Israel trip comes against the backdrop of the ongoing rapprochement between the governments of America and Cuba.

JWRP’s founding director, Lori Palatnik, came up with the idea for the trip to Israel from Cuba when she visited a Havana synagogue and noticed that remembrance plaques for deceased synagogue members did not have the traditional light bulbs that are illuminated on each person’s Jewish death anniversary (yahrzeit). She provided the bulbs to the congregation, but said she also realized how “those who founded the community are not asking for bulbs to be remembered, they are crying out for us to save their grandchildren and great-grandchildren from further assimilation.” 

“Let’s light up their souls,” Palatnik resolved.

The Israel visit, according to a press release, is part of a partnership between JWRP and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs “to bring women from Jewish communities across the Diaspora facing increased threats of anti-Semitism and economic hardship, including Argentina, Cuba, the former Soviet Union, France, the U.S., and Canada.”

Tamara Kely Marinto Zagovalov, one of the Cuban-Jewish mothers on the trip, said in a statement that visiting Israel for the first time means “to connect with our roots and share it with friends from our community—it is a miracle that has come true.” 

“Spiritually, [the trip] completes my Jewish wholeness. My family is so proud of me. I thank God and all the people who made this project possible,” said Ileana Carrillo Chavez, another member of the Cuban-Jewish delegation.

Posted on May 11, 2016 .