Cuba’s Jewish History, from Columbus to the Present

Yosef ben Levy Ha-Ivri was a Spanish Jew who converted to Catholicism in 1492, just before Ferdinand and Isabella’s decree banishing Jews from the country went into effect. Shortly thereafter—now using the name Luis de Torres—he joined Christopher Columbus on his voyage across the Atlantic; legend has it that Columbus thought de Torres’s knowledge of Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages might be helpful in communicating with the natives. Less than a year after their arrival, de Torres died on the island of Cuba, the first known Jewish resident of the New World.

Over the centuries, several waves of Jewish immigrants came to the island: first conversos, later American Jews, then Sephardim from Turkey, and finally Ashkenazim fleeing the Holocaust. Although Fidel Castro encouraged rumors that he was a descendant of conversos, his official treatment of Jews told a different story, as Irene Shaland explains in her brief history of Jewish life in Cuba:

Unlike the Soviet Union [after World War II], Castro’s domestic policies tended not to be anti-Semitic. The gravest threat to all Cubans, including Cuban Jews, was the revolutionary implementation of socialism—“Socialism or Death” as Castro and his comrade Che Guevara termed it—that entirely destroyed the Cuban economy. Entrepreneurs and the middle class were wiped out, which of course meant that many Jews lost everything.

All Cubans who fled the catastrophe being inflicted on their country were declared traitors and enemies of the revolutionary state. Out of nearly 15,000 Jews, fewer than 1,000 remained. Those thought to be religious activists were sent to labor camps created specifically for religious people, gays, exit applicants, and political dissidents. The new constitution stated that any religion was illegal as a manifestation of counter-revolutionary attitudes and actions. Most synagogues and Jewish schools were closed or abandoned, and as the totalitarian state asserted itself, the Jews had to . . . assimilate and adapt. They were not Jews anymore, but Cuban citizens and comrades.

And like the rest of the Cubans, they had to get used to poverty and rations, revolutionary atheism, and fear of political persecution. They also had to face ferocious anti-Israel propaganda, including anti-Semitic cartoons in state-controlled media, especially after Castro broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973. . . .

Fidel’s political career began at the University of Havana, where he became close to the Cuban People’s party and its leader Eduardo Chibas, who was then president of the Committee for Hebrew Palestine and supported the creation of the Jewish state. … [Nonetheless], books by Elie Wiesel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, [and] Anne Frank, among many others, were banned. . . . Cuba hosted training camps for Palestinian terrorists and trained and equipped terrorists in the Middle East. It is known, for example, that Abu Nidal and Carlos the Jackal found safe haven and support in Castro’s Cuba.

Read more at Sephardi Ideas Monthly

More about: Communism, Conversos, Cuba, History & Ideas, Immigration, Palestinian terror

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas