Hanukkah in Havana, Cuba

By Progreso Weekly 

Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel celebrates Hanukkah with members of the Jewish community in Havana.
Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel celebrates Hanukkah with members of the Jewish community in Havana.

HAVANA TIMES – Despite the heavy and persistent rains that flogged the capital for 48 hours, the celebration of Hanukkah, or feast of the miracle, was held at the Beth Shalom Synagogue, Cuba’s most important temple.

The first candle in the grand candelabrum, which has eight branches, was lighted by the Cuban Vice President, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, in the presence of Mrs. Adela Dworin, president of the Patronato Hebreo (Hebrew Community) and a pillar of the Jewish community on the island.

The candelabrum has new candle holders, but the candle in the central and tallest holder — called Shamash — is used to light the eight branches. “That is why this is called the feast of the miracle,” Dworin told us.

During the Greco-Syrian occupation of Judea under the command of Antiochus (c. 200 B.C.), the occupiers “attempted to Hellenize the population, their faith and culture,” she said. “The temple at Jerusalem was desecrated and the Maccabeans, after a fierce guerrilla war led by Yehuda the Maccabean, won.”

“While cleaning the temple, the Jews found a vessel with oil, which they lit, and the light burned for eight days,” Dworin said. That is why the central candle is used to light the remaining eight.

Fidel Castro in 1998 and Raúl Castro in 2010 also shared this celebration with the members of Havana’s Jewish community.

The Cuban Vice President and his entourage, which included Caridad Diego, head of the religious department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, toured the building and its excellent library.

The official delegation also watched a religious play and listened to the songs of the Shalom Choir. Dancers performed “rikudim,” traditional Jewish dances.

“I appreciate how they’ve been able to maintain and feed the history, culture and knowledge about the Jewish people in our beloved Cuba,” said the Vice President, who is also a member of the Communist Party politburo.

“Together, we can cooperate and contribute to the construction of a better society. It has been an unforgettable evening,” he said.