An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba by Ruth BeharAn Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba by Ruth Behar

An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba

byRuth Behar

Paperback | November 1, 2007

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Yiddish-speaking Jews thought Cuba was supposed to be a mere layover on the journey to the United States when they arrived in the island country in the 1920s. They even called it “Hotel Cuba.” But then the years passed, and the many Jews who came there from Turkey, Poland, and war-torn Europe stayed in Cuba. The beloved island ceased to be a hotel, and Cuba eventually became “home.” But after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the majority of the Jews opposed his communist regime and left in a mass exodus. Though they remade their lives in the United States, they mourned the loss of the Jewish community they had built on the island.

As a child of five, Ruth Behar was caught up in the Jewish exodus from Cuba. Growing up in the United States, she wondered about the Jews who stayed behind. Who were they and why had they stayed? What traces were left of the Jewish presence, of the cemeteries, synagogues, and Torahs? Who was taking care of this legacy? What Jewish memories had managed to survive the years of revolutionary atheism?

An Island Called Home is the story of Behar’s journey back to the island to find answers to these questions. Unlike the exotic image projected by the American media, Behar uncovers a side of Cuban Jews that is poignant and personal. Her moving vignettes of the individuals she meets are coupled with the sensitive photographs of Havana-based photographer Humberto Mayol, who traveled with her.

Together, Behar’s poetic and compassionate prose and Mayol’s shadowy and riveting photographs create an unforgettable portrait of a community that many have seen though few have understood. This book is the first to show both the vitality and the heartbreak that lie behind the project of keeping alive the flame of Jewish memory in Cuba.

Reader Guide (

Title:An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish CubaFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 10 × 7 × 0.68 inPublished:November 1, 2007Publisher:Rutgers University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0813545005

ISBN - 13:9780813545004


Table of Contents

Map of Cuba (showing places visited)
Running Away from Home to Run toward Home
Part 1
Looking for Henry
A Kaddish for the Jews Who Rest in Jewish Cemeteries in Cuba and for Raquel's Mother Who Does Not
Part 2
A Tour of Havana's Synagogues
The Kosher Butcher Shop
The Shirt That Holds Sadness
Los Prinstein
In the Realm of Lost Things
How to Pack Your Suitcase
Enrique Bender's Blue-Green Eyes Remind Me of My Grandfather
The Dancing Turk
Monday Morning in Luyanó
Danayda Levy's School Report
May Day with a Jewish Communist
The Whispering Writer
The Three Things José Martí Said All Real Men Must Do
Einstein in Havana
Salomón the Schnorrer
Mr. Fisher's Twice-Yearly Gifts
Becoming Ruth Berezniak
After Everyone Has Left
The Ketubah That Became a Passport
When I See You Again There Will Be No Pain or Forgetting
Part 3
Part 4
Simboulita's Parakeet
Seven Jewish Weddings in Camagüey
Che Waits for a New Frame
Pearls Left in Cienfuegos
The Moses of Santa Clara
A Conversation Next to El Mamey
Villa Elisa
The Covenant of Abraham
Salvador's Three Wives
A Beautiful Pineapple
The Last Jew of Palma Soriano
The Mizrahi Clan in Guantánamo
Part 5
My Room on Bitterness Street
How This Book Came to Be a Photojourney
List of Photographs
About the Author and Photographer

Editorial Reviews

"An Island Called Home is a snapshot of Cuban Jewish life and well worth a read by anyone interested in the beloved but mystifying island so close to home in America"