PASSOVER, WHICH BEGAN LAST WEEK, celebrates Jews’ emancipation from Pharaoh Ramses II and the commencement of their nationhood. It has become something of a secular festival as well with the annual telecast of The Ten Commandments.
Jews remember their Egyptian bondage with poignant symbolism during the Passover Seder (ritual service and meal). Bitter herbs are eaten to symbolize the bitterness of slavery under the Pharaoh. Individuals dip food in salt water, representing the tears of the enslaved.
Seder participants also recite a hymn called “Avadim Hayinu” (“We Were Slaves”). Here thanks are given for the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. “Now we are a free people,” they sing.
How bittersweet it must be to observe Passover in Cuba.
Over 90% of Cuba’s Jews have fled the island since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Like the rest of their countrymen, Cuba’s remaining Jews are enslaved and muzzled by this pharaoh.
Cuban Jews are hardly ignorant of their subjugation. One heroic Cuban Jew recently remarked, “I understand that we have no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to travel, no freedom to choose how we will educate our children. And I understand that’s not right.”
Jews in Cuba also have the pleasure of living under a regime that has exalted and trained the Arab brownshirts who seek the obliteration of the Jewish homeland.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu writes of the terrorist attack in Israel last week that murdered 21 people and wounded over 130, “Since Yom Kippur in 1973, Israel has not experienced a violent Arab attack so laced with savage contempt for our people and our heritage as we experienced on Pessah Eve this year” (“Endgame,” The Jerusalem Post, March 29). During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Castro deployed thousands of troops including helicopter pilots and tank drivers to support Syria’s aggression against Israel. Nearly 2700 Israeli soldiers died during the war—massive losses for a country of at that time less than 3.5 million people.
Unsurprisingly in 1991 Cuba voted against repealing the infamous 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism (for which Cuba voted). Joining Cuba were fellow sponsors of terrorism Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan.
Cuba’s monolithic media regularly demonize Israel, as an examination of Granma International reveals. Cuban Jews cannot condemn these virulent distortions through letters to the editor or the establishment of their own media. To voice their indignation is to imperil their livelihoods, families, and bodies.
And do Jewish organizations in America like the B’nai B’rith and American ORT demand the emancipation of their Cuban brethren? Do they demand an end to the systematic violation of Cuban Jews’ human rights?
On the contrary, they pour copious dollars into the regime through “humanitarian missions” where they stay at luxurious hotels from which ordinary Cubans are excluded. They taste rum and cigars at the Hotel Nacional and feature a photograph of the fatigues-clad pharaoh.
Alfred J. Kolatch writes in The Jewish Book of Why that Passover “serves to remind us of the importance of continuing the battle for freedom in every generation.” Is the flagrant theft of Cuban Jewry’s freedom a negligible injustice?
In Exodus 6:11, Moses receives the following command:
Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.
Notice that Moses wasn’t commanded to stay at Pharaoh’s palace, eat his sumptuous food, and ignore the Israelites’ captivity. Juxtapose this with Jews who stay at Pharaoh Castro’s hotels, eat food denied to most Cubans, and say nothing of their brethren’s captivity.
There’s a word for this in Yiddish: shandeh (disgrace).
I wonder if Cuban Jews sang “Avadim Hayinu” during their Seder, knowing the words do not apply to them. I can see them silently praying for deliverance from the house of Castro as they celebrate the deliverance of those ancient Israelites from the house of Pharaoh.