AS REPORTED by The Palm Beach Post recently, Communist Cuba held Rabbi Brian Kent of Boca Raton, Florida captive from mid-October until early November. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Kent about his ordeal in America’s closest sponsor of terrorism.
Rabbi Kent was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1963 and educated at the State University of New York, Adelphi University, and the Kollel Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary. He is a member of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
Myles Kantor: Why did you go to Cuba?
Rabbi Brian Kent: The reason I went to Cuba was because Cuba did not have a rabbi and I wanted to provide my services. I also wanted to go to Cuba because my mother's family came from Cuba and I heard about the island from family members my entire life.
Myles Kantor: What was your opinion of Cuba prior to your visit?
Rabbi Brian Kent: I was told that since 1993 there was religious freedom, but that turned out to be a total lie.
Myles Kantor: What restrictions were imposed upon you during your stay in Cuba?
Rabbi Brian Kent: I arrived on October 11 and began my work at the congregation [Adat Yisrael in Old Havana] immediately. I was welcomed with open arms and the congregation needed me. In the meantime, I arranged with a local landlord to rent an apartment at a good rate across the street in upscale Vedado.
On my fourth day in the country, on my way to the congregation, I was arrested by the National Revolutionary Police. I was taken up to my room and interrogated. I was ordered not to officiate at the congregation, not to give Bible classes, not to address the leadership, and not to speak to a group of more than three people. I was accused of spying and told not to leave the country prior to November 8, which was my anticipated date of departure.
The next day I moved into the apartment across the street only to be warned by a member of the Jewish community that the landlord, Miguel Delgado, was a member of the National Revolutionary Police. That night I was robbed at a cafe by a pickpocket and Miguel used this as a pretext to take all my money away, saying it was for my own protection. He also forbade me to leave the apartment at times. When I left I was always tailed. Since Miguel always knew what went on in the apartment, I knew there was a camera and a microphone inside. I confronted him on the issue and he said it was for my own protection.
I was under house arrest. I was prevented from leaving at times, escorted at other times, and tailed when I went out alone. Over 21 days, I was watched by seven people: three men in shifts by day and four females including two teenagers at night. When I complained to one of the female guards that the police watched every move outside, she threatened me and said not to make trouble, and if I kept complaining I would be in a world of trouble.
I was a captive and I spent three weeks doing as I was instructed. I was not allowed to speak English or wear religious garments. Cuba didn't have religious freedom as I had thought. My passport did not guarantee my protection as I thought. The teenagers and girls brought in to guard me at night were there to seduce me and destroy my reputation as a clergyman or for the purpose of blackmail. I followed my instructions set down by the police in the hotel and by Miguel Delgado at my apartment at the Edifico Altamira.
Myles Kantor: What were the circumstances of your release from Cuba?
Rabbi Brian Kent: I was given back some of my money and released on the morning of the 8th of November.
Myles Kantor: What message would you like to send to Americans who are considering a visit to Cuba?
Rabbi Brian Kent: The American people should not be fooled when going to Cuba. Much of what they see is staged by the Castro administration. Cuba is not a safe destination for tourists, and anybody who does not believe that should contact the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. They will list horror story after horror story.
Myles Kantor: What message would you like to send to the Jewish community in America and abroad about Cuban Jewry?
Rabbi Brian Kent: They should know that when visiting Jews in Cuba that these Jews are living under the communist terror. They are trapped. If they say the wrong thing, they can be tortured or jailed. They can lose their job and become destitute.
The Cubans run a sham where they convert non-Jews to Judaism and let them leave for Israel, while the regular Jewish population is forced to stay. I would caution American Jews to stay clear of Cuba and if they do go, not to be fooled by the puppet show they [Cuban Jews] are forced to engage in in order to bring tourists into Cuba and supply their economy with US dollars. These Jews are hostages and cannot speak in a free way. They are not even entitled to a rabbi. They are forced to stay in order to get Jewish tourists to visit their brethren on the island. The Jewish community is forced to receive Jewish tourists at the main Jewish center in Havana known as the Patronato. Dr. Jose Miller, a close associate of Fidel Castro since the revolution, was given the keys to the Jewish kingdom. He and his assistant, Adela Dworin, are members of the Cuban Communist Party and serve as the communist police over the Jewish community.
Myles Kantor: You describe Jews in Cuba as hostages. Would you compare the condition of Cuban Jewry to the captivity of Russian Jewry under the Soviet regime?
Rabbi Brian Kent: I would describe the condition of Cuban Jewry as exactly the same as that of Soviet Jewry, with the exception of the immigration to Israel charade. It seems that the Cubans learned everything about everything from their former patron, the U.S.S.R.
Myles Kantor: Have any Jewish organizations in America collaborated with the Castro regime?
Rabbi Brian Kent: The B'nai B'rith has used the captive Jewish community in order to run tours. It appears to be a lucrative business at the expense of Cuban Jews. They have even invited members of the Cuban Communist Party such as Adela Dworin to speak to B'nai B'rith gatherings in Pittsburgh and have the nerve to show this on their website. I doubt that much of the money B’nai B’rith raises for Cuban Jews gets to this impoverished and trapped community. I believe it winds up in the pockets of B'nai B'rith executives.