Journey to Cuba

Travel to Cuba
Cuba, a Caribbean gem, is a cultural oasis of warm, generous people. Be inspired by Cuba’s soulful art, musical rhythms and vibrant dance. Join JCC Rockland on an extraordinary journey to Cuba to meet and bring support to the Jewish communities of Cuba.

THIS FULL-TIME journey to bring support to the Jewish communities

also allows time to experience the SIGHTS, HISTORY, CULTURE, ART, MUSIC AND PEOPLE of this extraordinary country.
Day 1
thursday, APRIL 12

Option 1: Fly direct from Newark to Cuba on April 12, dinner and overnight in Havana at the Melia Cohiba.
Option 2: Fly on your own to Miami on April 12 and overnight at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
We will have a one hour trip seminar at 6:00pm in the hotel to discuss the trip and gain some insight into the culture of Cuba. Afterwards your evening is free. There are various restaurants in the area of the hotel where you may walk to for dinner.

Day 2
friday, APRIL 13

Option 2 takes a morning flight to Havana. On arrival in Havana and after clearing customs and immigration, we go to our hotel, the Melia Cohiba in Vedado, to meet the Option 1 group, have a light brunch and begin the program. The neighborhood of Vedado is all about the spirit of Havana’s people and provides a firsthand look at the promise of the future. Children play kickball on an elevated pedestrian oasis in the middle of wide avenues while classic American cars cruise by. Parents return home from work as students close their books and unwind with friends along the Malecón. No trip to Vedado is complete without a stop at Coppelia for some of its famous ice cream. Here, you’ll sway to the melodies of life and groove to the music at clubs frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway.

The food is authentic and wholesome. The Melia Cohiba Hotel is fully air conditioned with stunning views of the city and the sea. The hotel provides comfort and an elegant, modern design with Cuban marble and references to the world of cigars and the famous Cohiba brand. The hotel features an outdoor pool, several restaurants, a night club and a boutique gallery. En route to the hotel, you will see a city that has remained just as it looked more than fifty years ago.

In order to understand the scope of the Jewish life in Cuba, we begin our journey at the ships’ terminal starting with a walking tour of Old Havana and the Jewish Quarter.

Old Havana has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO and will remind you of cities in Europe with its beautiful architectural elements. During the walking tour of the four main squares Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja and Plaza de la Catedral; you will gain insight about the families that forged the Jewish Community of Cuba and the present members of that community.

We will return to our hotel to freshen up and those interested will be able to participate in the evening services at Beth Shalom followed by interaction with congregation members at the Oneg Shabbat. Festive Shabbat dinner at our hotel will follow services.

Day 3
Saturday, APRIL 14

Breakfast served daily at our hotel. We will have a briefing by a former diplomat and current professor at the University of Havana on US and Cuba relations.

We go to view Cuban art exhibits at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana. At the Art Museum, A docent of the museum will take you n a journey of the many facets of Cuban art. Founded on February 13, 1913 and having made frequent moves it was finally placed on the block once occupied by the old Colon Market. In 1954, the new Palacio de Bellas Artes was opened, designed by the architect Rodriguez Pichardo. The museum is dedicated exclusively to housing Cuba Art collections and has rooms dedicated to landscape, religious subjects and the Costumbrismo narrative scenes of Cuban life. A modernist sculpture by noted Cuban artist Rita Lonja stands outside the main entrance.

Lunch on your own in Old Havana.

Afterwards, we go to Beth Shalom Temple to bring donations. Built in 1952, the synagogue is located in the Vedado district of Havana that was once a center of Jewish activity. Much of the original building was sold, and only part remains in Jewish hands today. Extensive repairs were undertaken in the 1990s with help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and wealthy Jewish donors from Miami. The building actually looks brand new. Today it contains the main community center and library with a nursery and educational activities to help bring back the youth into the Jewish community. We will meet with Adela Dworin, president of Beth Shalom and other community leaders to learn about the Jewish community in the island.

Then it is on to the Hotel Nacional. The hotel is a historic luxury hotel located on the Malecón in the middle of Vedado, Havana, Cuba. It stands on Taganana Hill a few metres from the sea, and offers a view of Havana Harbour, the seawall and the city. It stands out due to its refined elegance and its ancient splendor, which since 1930 has attracted a large number of illustrious guests. Enjoy the view as we sip a “Mojito”.

Dinner at a Paladar, private home restaurant. Paladares are the independent, state sanctioned, family run restaurants of Cuba. Since the beginning of the Cuban government’s quest to open up their country to democratic economic reforms, paladares were one of the first enterprises to fall under these reforms. They are flourishing, so much so, it is these paladares that are sought out over state and hotel run restaurants. The food is authentic and wholesome.

Day 4
Sunday, APRIL 15

Breakfast followed by an interactive discussion about life in Cuba today with a sociologist from the University of Havana.

We go to Revolution Square and learn about Jose Marti, Cuba’s National Hero and his relationship with the American Jewish Community.
We continue to a local market. With help from your escort and guide, it’s a great chance to interact with the vendors and get a feel for real life. Here you may purchase fruits, vegetables and flowers to be given to a food bank.

In 1908, the first Sephardic immigrants arrived in Cuba, mostly from Turkey, and to a lesser degree, from Syria and Greece. In 1914, the first Sephardic synagogue was founded. Its name was Shevet Achim Hebrew Union. It functioned until 1995, when it became necessary to close its doors due to its state of disrepair. Successive waves of immigration took place around the First and Second World Wars. At the time this happened, there were in existence in the capital of Cuba two Sephardic synagogues. One of them, founded in 1954, the Sephardic Hebrew Center of Cuba, is still functioning presently. It is the only Sephardic synagogue in Havana. Presently, approximately 65% of the total Jewish population of the country is Sephardic. We will go to the Sephardic Hebrew Center and meet with Dr. Myra Levy, president of the congregation followed by fellowship and interaction with members of the community.

This afternoon, you will ride about Havana in vintage American convertibles. It’s a return to the 1950’s when there were about as many American convertibles in Havana as in New York. The cars will take you to the Forest of Havana and drive down the fabled 5th Avenue of Miramar and along the Malecón.

Dinner tonight is at Café del Oriente.

Day 5
Monday, APRIL 16

Visit a typical Cuban home and learn the story of this house and its residents, past and present.

We continue to the Jewish Cemetery in Guanabacoa. We will clean up graves and help to restore graves in the children’s section. Those who are unable to do physical work may recite Kaddish at graves. A stop will be made at the Holocaust Memorial inside the cemetery.

We continue to Matanzas, a two hour drive. En-route we view the city of Matanzas and stop at the Bacunayaqua Bridge to view the amazing landscape.

We overnight at the Melia Las Americas Varadero Hotel. Your beachfront hotel is all-inclusive (breakfast, lunch, dinner are included).

Day 6
Tuesday, APRIL 17

Morning at leisure. We depart after lunch to Havana.

En route to Havana, we go to Hemingway’s House. In 1940 Hemingway, with his new wife Martha, purchased a home outside Havana, Cuba. He would live there for the next twenty years. The Hemingways named the site Finca Vigia, or “lookout farm”. Hemingway stayed in Cuba longer than many Americans chose to after relations between Cuba and the United States began to deteriorate. He fished extensively aboard his boat, Pilar, and enjoyed the island lifestyle, hanging out in Havana, and entertaining guests at the Finca. View his home, with many original furnishings, hunting trophies, and personal artifacts.

Dinner at a Paladar.

Day 7
Wednesday, APRIL 18

Following breakfast, we go to one of Havana’s cigar factories to learn about the art of cigar rolling. Afterwards, we go to Callejon de Hamel a lively alleyway to see Afro Cuban art and learn a bit about Santeria. Free time for lunch. We proceed to Muraleando to see artists and musicians rebuilding their neighborhood. Stop at the arts & crafts market Almacenes San Jose.

This afternoon we visit the Compas Dance of Cuba to see a rehearsal. The group uses percussion, African rhythms, flamenco and classical ballet creating a new and different Cuban beat.

Following our visit, we go to the home and studio of with José Rodriquez Fuster. Born in August 1946, Fuster is a Cuban naïve artist specializing in ceramics, painting, drawing, engraving and graphic design. This winner of many awards with collections in prominent museums has made a major contribution over 10 years of rebuilding and decorating the fishing town of Jaimanitas in the outskirts of Havana, where he lives. Jaimanitas is now a unique work of public art where Fuster has decorated over 80 houses with ornate murals and domes to suit the personality of his neighbors. Nowadays, Fuster’s art is a cherished part of Cuban culture. He sponsors this project by the sale of his paintings and ceramics.

This evening we have our farewell dinner and closing ceremony.

Day 8
Thursday, April 19

Breakfast and depart for Jose Marti Airport for our flight to Miami or Newark.

Itinerary is subject to change without notice.