Reconnection 60 years in the Making

posted by Forest Sobol

My Bat Mitzvah Torah reading was Parsha Naso, a passage about a portable sanctuary that travelled with the Jewish people as they wandered in the Sinai desert. In my d’var Torah, I explored the idea that much like the miskhan (portable sanctuary), a person’s Judaism is also moving, and wherever Jews travel in the world, they will be able to connect with and feel welcome in the Jewish community. Had I known JDC Entwine’s tagline at the time, my d’var Torah might well have been entitled “One Jewish World. Interconnected.”

Seventeen years later, while participating in Entwine’s Inside Jewish Cuba trip, I had a profound experience related to the theme I discussed in my d’var Torah. When my family emigrated from Europe in the early 20th century, my great-great uncle, Isaac Gurwitz and his family, were not permitted entry into the United States. They immigrated to Havana, Cuba before finally relocating to the United States after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Before going on this trip, I spoke with my mother’s cousin, Annette, who had previously traveled to Cuba. She told me that if I happened to meet a women named Adela while on my trip, I should ask her if she remembered Uncle Isaac and his family.

Fast forward to the Entwine trip- we went to the synagogue in Havana, and to my surprise Adela was there! She is the president of the synagogue and was 88 years old at the time. She immediately knew who my great-great uncle was and told me that he was one of the synagogue’s founders. She  showed me photos of Isaac, newspaper articles about him, and plaques honoring him displayed throughout the building.

Since 1959, Cuba and the United States have had a tenuous relationship. Yet here I was, 60 years later, deeply connected to Cuba through my Jewish identity. Just as I had spoken about at my Bat Mitzvah when I was 13 years old, the global Jewish community had transcended political and cultural barriers, making me feel at home in a foreign setting.