In first person… Helping Cuban synagogue

Earlier this year, my family accompanied my brother's jazz band on a trip to Havana. When I first heard that we would be traveling to Cuba, I did research into the Jewish community there. I came in contact with a woman here in Berkeley, June Safran, who runs the Cuba American Jewish Mission, which collects and distributes Jewish ritual items and medical supplies for three synagogues in Cuba's capital. I decided that his would be a perfect mitzvah project in preparation for my bat mitzvah at Temple Beth El.

I sent out letters explaining this mitzvah, and got a wonderful response. With the help of family, friends and a generous donation from Cantor Brian Reich, I raised $6 short of $1,000. I bought 18 tallitot, eight Spanish-Hebrew chumashim, 65 Judaic magnets for the senior simcha group, 100 alef-bet pencils for the religious school, and six mizrachim for people to hang in their homes so they know in which direction to pray.

I also brought 40-plus pounds of medical supplies donated by doctors and dentists in our community.

I delivered the supplies to El Patronato, a Conservative, Ashkenazi congregation. It is the largest congregation in Cuba and has a newly refurbished sanctuary. When we attended Shabbat morning services there, I could see that the people were not well off. Poverty floated through the air and hid in the depths of the people's shame. I knew that all of the supplies were desperately needed and would be well-used.