Viva Cuba celebrates music, history and Jewish community

Cuba — in all its decaying grandeur — is on display at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. “La Habana,” an exhibit of 28 photographs by Victoria Montoro Zamorano, opened last week in the JCC’s Katz Gallery, as part of “Viva Cuba” — a series this fall that highlights the country and its small Jewish community.

Zamorano was born in Cuba and spent five years in Havana as a child. She emigrated in 1961 at age 12 to join her father in New York; her mother stayed behind and was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 17 years until her release in 1991 through an exchange with the United States.

A world traveler and resident of Miami, Zamorano returned to Cuba in 2008 with a group from the JCC in Boca Raton — the first of six Cuba missions.

Elegant sconce at Havana Sephardic synagogue

The country “hasn’t changed at all,” she says. But her visits — “the smells, the people” — released a flood of memories that had long been diffused. Also, Zamorano went to areas she’d never been to as a child — particularly as a female. “The girls were very protected,” she explains.

The trips also exposed her to Jewish Cuban life. Zamorano, who is Catholic, traces her Jewish interest to 2008, when she was on assignment in Romania and warmly welcomed into synagogues and the Jewish fold. Her photos of Romanian synagogues led to her invitation to join the Cuba trip with the Boca JCC, and others.

Photos in the JCCSF’s “La Habana” exhibit, which runs through Nov. 17, are available for purchase. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the JCC.



Other Viva Cuba events include:

Entrance to Havana-area cemetery affiliated with Cuba’s oldest synagogue photos/victoria montoro zamorano

• “Taste of Cuba” dinner, followed by SFJAZZ performance of the group Septeto Nacionale, founded by legendary Afro-Cuban songwriter Ignacio Piñeiro in 1927, on Oct. 4 (dinner at 6 p.m., concert

7:30 p.m.).

• “Jazz in Cuba and Beyond” with Rebeca Mauleón, history of jazz and guest performers, 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays, Oct. 3-31.

• “Returning to Jewish Cuba,” lecture by author Ruth Behar at 7 p.m. Nov. 1.

The celebration continues in 2013 with a talk on Hemingway in Cuba slated for January, and a Cuba mission with the JCCSF travel program Feb. 28-March 8.

“La Habana” photo exhibit, through Nov. 17 at JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. Free. Detailed information at