This article is reprinted with permission from
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.
 

The Torah Finds its Cuban Voice JDC-trained
Cuban Baal Kore is Welcomed by his Community

Havana, Cuba -- When Alberto Behar, Cuba's first native Baal Kore in nearly forty years, reads aloud from the Torah this Rosh Hashanah, members of the congregation will listen carefully. For the first time in two generations, each word and every note will give the Torah a Cuban voice.

For Alberto, reading the Torah is less a matter of making local history than of ensuring Jewish continuity. "While following the text with my eyes, I can see in the scrolls, the reflection of my father's and grandfather's faces. They are happy that I am maintaining the Jewish tradition."
 


Alberto Behar, Cuba's first native Baal Kore in nearly forty years, represents the breathtaking revival of Cuban Jewish life. After years of supporting the survival of Cuba's Jews, JDC has spent the last several years supporting Jewish renewal on a community level.
Photo: Larry Port
The introduction of a native Baal Kore is only the latest step in a breathtaking revival of Cuban Jewish life. After years of ensuring basic needs and supporting the survival of Cuba's Jews, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has spent the last several years supporting Jewish renewal on a community level. The Cuban Jewish community now has the infrastructure necessary to provide health services, social and community development and Jewish education.
 
At the Tikun Olam Sunday school, JDC-trained teachers help students make good use of Spanish and Hebrew books on Jewish topics, a video library and Internet-capable computers. Cuba is now also host to two international summer camps, where Jewish children from throughout Latin America come to spend the summer having fun, forming friendships and deepening their ties to Judaism.
 


Alberto's journey to becoming a Baal Kore began with an idea by Diego Mandelbaum, JDC's representative in Cuba. "In so many ways, Cuba has become its own Jewish resource. This seemed like a logical step. It helps that Alberto is a true scholar," says Mandelbaum. "When we started he could scarcely read Hebrew. But he had the desire. We decided on a two-month course of study. In the process, he learned much more than the musical symbols he would need. He studied commentaries and reflections on the Torah. He moved beyond the technique of reading the Torah and investigated the spiritual and emotional meaning contained in each portion. When you hear him read, you can sense his fufillment."

  Alberto's elation is multiplied in the responses of those who come to hear him read. "When he reads the Torah in a Cuban voice, I know that this is our Torah, too -- not something from the outside," smiled an older woman in the congregation. "Here in Cuba," she continues, "We have a strong community. Now we are enjoying some fruit from our strength. If Menorah, (Cuba's national Jewish newspaper) is the eyes of our people, Alberto is our voice."


Copyright 2000 by The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Inc.