For the first time in decades, kashrut-observing Americans can legally travel to Cuba. As the first licensed organization in the U.S. to offer glatt kosher missions to the Caribbean island, Other Cuban Journeys is now taking reservations for its seven-night excursion, departing December 9.
Fresh glatt kosher cuisine will be served in a dedicated restaurant at the Melia Habana, the deluxe hotel providing the accommodations. Hashgachah will be provided by Rabbi Levi Teitlebaum, director of the Ottawa Vaad Hakashrut. There will also be a daily minyan as well as Orthodox Shabbat services.
Throughout the course of the week, participants will have the unique opportunity to explore Jewish Cuba and immerse themselves in the culture. Highlights of the mission include tours of Old Havana and visits to the Sephardic and Ashkenaz synagogues and mikvah; and the Patronato, the island’s Jewish community center. Also on the itinerary are a special memorial service at the Jewish cemetery in Guanabacoa and a stop at the Jewish pharmacy that is currently helping the Jews of Cuba procure medical necessities.
Through personal interaction with lay leaders and members of the community, participants will learn about the Jewish renaissance on the island and the struggles the community faces today. The mission will feature an in-depth look at Cuban politics, the educational system, the medical system, and the arts, with Hemingway’s Finca, artists’ studios, local museums, and the towns of Matanzas weaved into the itinerary. There is also a beach day scheduled at the world famous seaside resort of Varadero.
The mission is being presented by Marla Whitesman and Miriam Saul, cofounders of Other Cuban Journeys, which has, over the last 13 years, led more than 100 missions to Cuba in conjunction with synagogues, Federations, JCCs, Hillels, youth groups, and families around the country; along with Hersh Taubenfeld, who has been producing and operating Passover programs for the last 15 years and has been a fixture in the kosher hospitality industry for two decades; and Ben Greszes, a Cuban-born Jew and successful businessman based in New York.
“We share a passion for the island of Cuba and its people,” explained Saul, who partnered with Whitesman back in 2000. Saul returned to Cuba after an absence of 39 years longing to find her lost childhood and her memories. Whitesman first visited Cuba on an early cultural exchange. Both women returned to the U.S. having experienced a profound life change. “We wanted to be a part of the renaissance of the small but growing Jewish community and allow others to do the same. We have never looked back.”
“In order to extend that opportunity to the more observant and kosher Jewish community, we have marshaled the expertise of Hersh Taubenfeld and Ben Greszes, each of whom brings their own knowledge and resources to make this first ever glatt kosher mission a reality,” added Saul.
The current restrictions preventing U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba legally is waived for this group via the special “People-to-People” license obtained through the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“The license mandates that all travelers must participate in all activities we have planned,” explained Greszes, who recently returned to Cuba on a humanitarian mission, his first time back to his native country since fleeing when Castro came to power. “Therefore, the four of us have collaborated to design a full and inspiring itinerary that includes purposeful interaction on the island with ample time for daily tefillot and meals at the hotel.”
“This really is a historic journey that kosher travelers could not partake in before,” stated Taubenfeld, himself of Cuban descent. “We have been working closely with the hotel for months to ensure they understand our particular needs and are able to uphold the highest standards of kashrut while still delivering the level of service for which the Melia brand of hotels is known.”
The eight-day, seven-night package includes roundtrip charter flights from Miami; first-class hotel accommodations at Melia Habana; all glatt kosher meals; experienced English-speaking professional guides; entrance fees to important cultural and historic sites; and tips for bellboys and waiters. Prices start at $4,995 per person based on double occupancy.
For more information and to register, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call 954-444-1777. More information and dates of future missions can be found at www.othercubanjourneys.com. v