Miriam’s Musings: Pensando en Pesaj

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Two weeks ago I came back from Miami from the reunion of my chaverim of Hanoar Hatzioni B’Cuba, this Zionist youth movement’s branch in Havana. For the first time I saw people I spent my teen age years and haven’t seen since 1957. Soon after Fidel Castro replaced the previous Batista capitalist dictatorship with a communist dictatorship, all but three of us have left the island. Those of us from TBS who went last March on the charitable mission saw the perpetuation and the crumbling of this Cuban communism.

The picture below is of some of the Hanoar Hatzioni leadership in the late 1950s. I, George Alexander, am the leftmost in the first row.

More pictures and my narrative are available from those years at www.hanoarhatzionicuba.com.

The following article was written by the daughter of one of the founders.

Miriam’s Musing: Pensando en Pesaj (Thinking About Pesah)

By Miriam Bradman Abrahams, March 29, 2012 © 2012 The Jewish Star, LLC

Thinking about Passover, the holiday which celebrates our freedom from slavery, reminds me of my parents’ and my exodus from Cuba’s tyranny in 1962.

Each Pesach we recite “In every generation a person is obligated to view himself as if he were the one who went out from Egypt.” I can almost imagine that I escaped, since I’ve fully internalized the Haggadah readings. Although I actually did flee Cuba with my parents in 1962 at age thirteen months, arriving here as a refugee, I can’t honestly say I remember a thing. However, having that colorful adventure ingrained in me by my parents’ retellings, the visuals are imprinted in my brain so that I can personally recall them.

When I was younger I didn’t pay enough attention to the stories my parents told about their past. I thought I had it all down pat and could easily recount their history.

As an adult I find myself craving a thorough retelling of their immigrant story including forgotten details from my earliest years until my own memory kicks in. As a kid I rolled my eyes when my parents and their contemporaries cracked up at their funny reminiscences and got serious about the sadder parts. Now that my parents are older I plead with them to let me interview them, to fill me in on the minutest pieces of their stories so I can record it all for my children.

They’re not always in the mood to discuss it. Sometimes they don’t remember the specific thing I want to know. They have told me that the piece of information I’m seeking isn’t relevant to the important points. So what are these main ideas?

Here is what I’ve gathered: That life in Cuba was wonderful until it wasn’t. That my family and others had to make a decision whether to take a chance and stay in the place they knew and hope for the best or to take a risk and leave to a new place with one suitcase and face definite hardships. That Jews should always keep their passports updated, safe and ready to go. That our generation and our children’s are incredibly fortunate to live here in America – the land of the free. That Americans should feel patriotic and must always exercise our right to vote. That my parents relate to the ideas of exile and freedom in a visceral way.

At our seder each year, my dad, John Bradman, makes a short, impassioned, introductory speech. He welcomes everyone and expresses his personal Shehecheyanu, gratitude for all of us who are present at the table. He explains that besides himself, my mom, my aunt and their cousin, who all fled Cuba after Castro’s takeover, none of us younger folk “gets” what it means to be free. He says “freedom is a precious commodity that is not easily appreciated or understood until it is lost, whether it is religious, political or economic freedom. When that freedom is recovered in another setting, it comes with a deep understanding of its importance. That’s how I experienced it and why I value freedom in a way that someone who never lost it cannot comprehend.”

My mom, Pola, says, “In the United States I feel free to study, read, speak, write, work, shop, and travel. Life has no boundaries here. You can dream and fulfill your dream. Pesaj is a summary of all freedoms.”

My aunt, Ana Fitter, says, “freedom is living in the U.S. The ability to express my feelings and opinions whether political, religious or of any other nature without any fears, as well as making personal decisions without any government intervention, makes this a great country.” She said I should quote her since this is her freedom of expression!

Cousin Aida says, “I left Cuba when everything of monetary value was taken away by the government. Last year, I visited Cuba for the first time in 50 years, a week before Pesach. It was heart wrenching to see that Cubans still can’t make any move without someone looking over their shoulders. I felt bad for Jews who have nothing with which to celebrate the holiday except for the aid they have been sent by Canadian Jews for 30 years. They were awaiting containers of food shipped from Canada to El Patronato, the main Jewish community center in Havana, where a free seder dinner is offered to the community; about 200 participants were expected. I am grateful to be able to live however I want here.”

My cousin Eduardo left his parents in Cuba fourteen years ago to make Aliyah to an absorption center. He recently moved his wife and children to a house he built on a kibbutz near Sderot. “I really think that freedom is a divine gift. It makes me feel much better here despite the security risks and the daily life’s stress.”

My parents and aunt just returned from Miami where they enjoyed the 60th anniversary reunion of Hanoar Hazioni’s Cuban Jewish Zionist youth group. About sixty ex-patriot Cubans met for dinners, Shabbat services, speeches, laughter and tears. The event was hosted by their old friends living in Miami and attendees gathered from all over the U.S., Puerto Rico, Israel, Spain and Venezuela.

The movement promoted Jewish identity and Aliyah and the keynote speaker was Ben Gefen, their former Mexican shaliach to Cuba. We Jews are all emigrants and immigrants if you go back only a generation or two. There are many reasons to leave home, beginning from Adam and Eve’s expulsion from their Garden, to Avraham’s trek to Canaan, to Joseph going down to Egypt, to the Israelites Exodus from that same land, and on and on through so many varied places until wherever we are today. We each have our own fascinating story to tell, but we can each incorporate the Haggadah as a beginning chapter in our continuing saga.

B’shana Haba’a B’Yerushalyim! Chag Sameach!