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Friday, April 29, 2016

Cuba Visit April 29, 2916

I am beginning to integrate my different reactions to my recent visit to Cuba. The reality we were presented was so different from my expectations. I knew the country was frozen in time from the beginning of the embargo in 1959.I knew the Russians provided for the Cubans until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
I did not know that the Cubans could not or did not keep up with ANY infrastructure maintenance or repair for 50 years. There is no road that traverses the island. It is 55 miles wide (north to south and 760 miles long east to west. It sits at the mouth of the Carribean with its north facing us. Havana faces north on Cuba's east. Santiago de Cuba faces south on Cuba's west coast.
Their cement factory is a closed up wreck. They make nails by hand, usually they are rescuing bent nails from ruins and straightening them for individual projects. They also rescue wood. They transport what little clay they have in the Western mountains for pottery which is hand turned.The people are very resourceful but not inventive, as far as we were permitted to see.
Our experience took us from Camaguey which is on the north coast almost in the middle of the country to Havana with intermediate stops in Remedios and Santa Clara, plus an overnight at the beach resort of Valadero. As we drove in our modern air conditioned bus, the northern keys of Cuba were described to us, but we were told that Americans are not permitted to visit, even to drive on the causeway to see the resorts that have been built to accommodate European and Canadian tourists.
The tourists arrive by plane, travel directly to the all-inclusive hotels and leave the premises only to drive bac to the airport. They don't need restaurants, trains or buses and the approach road is well-paved. Perhaps they rent a fr to drive to Havana for night life. That is one Cuba reality.
Another reality of Cuba. They have no middle class. The population is mostly young. The pedi taxis are manned by middle aged university-educated men who work for tips from tourists rather than in their trained professions in order to feed and clothe their families. Other middle and older men sit in the squares of the smaller cities all day. The only non-hotel or tourist workers we saw other than dance or music teachers or baseball coaches were hand rolling the famous Havana cigars.
Russia did teach Cuba how to run a communist educational system. Everyone wears a uniform, color coded by age, every child goes to school. There is a separate school for special needs children who often live there for their entire school experience. Children are assessed at age 7 and thse with special talents are sent to regional residential  schools that specialize in music and art and baseball. More Cuban realities will follow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Passover Preparation April 19, 2016

I know you are all waiting for my report on my amazing visit to Cuba, but I am processing my views and I have not put my thoughts in any presentable order yet. The order I am engrossed in this week is getting ready for Passover.

Preparing for Passover requires quite a bit of shopping, cooking and cleaning. Each task I do lovingly, remembering my mother's household and the people we were so lucky and so thankful to have with us once more. I am of course referring to my grandparents who arrived at the end of January 1947 and soon thereafter celebrated this holiday of Pesach,  this holiday of freedom, this holiday where we welcome the stranger into our homes.

It was then, the first Passover I attended after learning the Four Questions during my first year of Hebrew School as many of you have read in my new book The Key, the Turtle and the Bottle of Schnapps. It has been my favorite holiday ever since then. I sat at my grandfather's right for the next twenty-two years as we moved from Newark, New Jersey to Millburn, from child to mother of my own children. I sat at my father's right for the next decade, continuing the tradition after he died at my mother's side as she cooked and cleaned, until she needed the help of her daughters to prepare the feast for the family of her grandchildren, always welcoming guests into her home.

Today I feel my mother's presence as I prepare the chopped liver appetizer. I render the chicken fat as she did, frying it in the pan with the onions and the five chicken livers. My mother only used the one liver that lived in the chicken she cooked for the matzo ball soup. Most of her guests preferred the sweet gefilte fish she made. My family prefers chopped liver. As I peeled the ten eggs, I missed my mother's wooden bowl and the curved chopping knife which I learned is called a mezzaluna. So off I went to the megastore to purchase a wooden bowl and a chopper, and the chopped liver is authentic to my memory of it.

After my trip to Cuba, the store was overwhelming. The Cubans have no such store nor any of the items in it. They have the same tools their mothers and their grandmothers used for cooking, but most likely  far less variety of ingredients than their grandparents had before the revolution.

For those of you who are also preparing and participating in this ancient ritual, remember those who are not yet free, remember the refugees waiting for acceptance and welcome the stranger in your midst. Have a sweet and just Passover.