Havana Nagila:
The Jews in Cuba

Winner of the 1995 Judah Magnes Museum
Jewish Video Competition

Produced by Evan Garelle
Written & Directed by Laura Paull
Edited by Vicente Franco
Narrated by Isabel Alegrķa

a Schnitzki & Stone Production

They might have been called "the Jews that time forgot" - the cousins who left Poland or Russia, Turkey or Yemen in the early 1900s, stopped in Cuba, and never made it to New York.
They have been dubbed "Castro's Jews" in recent articles from the American press - those who for whatever reason didn't leave Cuba when they could.
They are "the world's last bastion of Jewish socialism," according to one Cuban historian, a description that some among Havana's Jewish community - as politically varied as Jewish communities anywhere else in the world - would no doubt dispute.
They themselves say that they have been better treated in Cuba than anywhere else in the world to which their family history extends.
Today, like all Cubans, they say they are hungry.
Who are these people? What are they doing there? How are they surviving, individually and collectively? As Americans and members of the larger Diaspora, do we have a historical responsibility towards them? What transformations have they undergone in their move from the harsh climate of Europe to the tolerant warmth of the Caribbean? What are their values and how are they manifested in a Latin American, socialist society? What are their views on Jewish identity, Israel, and U.S.-Cuban relations? Perhaps most importantly, what can they tell us about Cuba?

Havana Nagila is a 57-minute video documentary that traces the history and presence of the Jewish community in Cuba. It explores the impact of the 1959 Revolution, what it has been like for the five percent of the original community that has lived through these three and a half decades under Castro, the phenomenon of the community's recent resurgence, and the international issues that affect its future. Rich in archival material and Cuban ambiance, with interviews that present a side of Cuba never seen before, the film reveals some forgotten Jewish history and examines aspects of Cuban politics and culture through the experiences of Jews in both pre-and post-Revolutionary Cuba. It notes some of the contributions of Jews to Cuba as a nation, and explores the persistence of Jewish values - both secular and religious - in the lives of these people, particularly under the current political and economic difficulties. The film also documents the impact of the U.S. trade embargo and Soviet collapse. Finally, it allows the Cuban Jews to make their own case for the strengthening of the existing historical and cultural ties between Cubans and Americans. For Jews and all others whose families share the experience of immigration, it will be clear that the people portrayed in this film are Cubans by chance as much as by choice, and that, "there but for fortune," any one of us might have found ourselves in their place today. Havana Nagila will leave audiences inspired by the Jews of Cuba - and challenged by them.

Style and Format
The video was shot in Havana in 1993-95. The narration is in English and the interviews are in Spanish with English subtitles. Available In VHS.

The interviews and archival material are accompanied by a soundtrack that includes both traditional Jewish and Cuban music - and even some that bridges both - namely, the recording of Hava Nagila by the famous Cuban singer, Celia Cruz.

Havana Nagila
also features songs by three contemporary San Francisco Bay Area Jewish musicians: Rebeca Mauleon-Santana, Judy Frankel, and Kaila Flexer.

Available on VHS from Ergo Media Incorporated, 1-800-695-3746.