An Island Called Home
Returning to Jewish Cuba
Published by: Rutgers University Press
320 Pages, 145 b&w photos, 1 map
- Published: October 1, 2007
- Published: January 27, 2009
- Published: October 1, 2007
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 (http://rutgerspress.rutgers.
Running Away from Home to Run toward Home
Part One: Blessings for the Dead
Part Two: Havana
Part Three: Traces
Part Four: In the Provinces
Part Five: Shalom to Cuba
How this Book Came to Be a Photojourney
List of Photographs
About the Author and Photographer
"Traversing the island, Behar becomes a confidante to a myriad of Jewish strangers. Through one-on-one interviews and black-and-white images taken by her photographer, Humberto Mayol, she uncovers the diasporic thread that connects Cuban Jews....This diligent recounting and pictorial collage of interviews with adolescents, the aging, the impoverished and the political by Behar preserves in memory the people and places that make up Cuba's Jewish story."~Publishers Weekly
A fascinating and vital memoir about a rarely glimpsed cultural force in Cuba; both personal and far-reaching. An Island Called Home digs deep to reveal new things about the collective soul of the Cubans.~Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
This may be Behar's most personal work...she lovingly intertwines her own thoughts and feelings with the more analytical observations of her profession. The result: a narrative that tugs at the heart.~Miami Herald
"A nostalgic look at Cuban Jews, now and then. . . . her supple text is supplemented by the vivid photographs of Cuban photographer Humberto Mayol."~Canadian Jewish News
The book offers a brief historical introduction and an excellent chronology that tell why and how Jews from all over Europe and the Middle East flocked to Cuba in the early years of the twentieth century. This book tells as much about the author as it does about the Jews of Cuba. Behar has spent her life considering herself an outsider. As an academicshe has pursued that posture studying different cultures, hiding her Jewish identity, and wondering where she could take root. In this, her sixth book, Behar reveals the child whose roots are photographs in a suitcase. In Cuba she finds a home. Her tenacity in documenting even the smallest and most distant communities makes this study valuable.~Shofar
"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"~Miriam Bradman Abrahams, Jewish Book Council