Meet Sam Blitzstein

Sam Blitzstein never imagined traveling to Cuba.

Then, he joined his daughter and son-in-law, Robin and Mark Neumann, on an Associated-sponsored visit to the island nation. “My grandfather visited a cousin in Cuba in the 1930s,” says Sam, who immigrated from Venezuela in 1960. “I thought maybe I would learn more.”

Seeking clues about his extended family, Sam looked in a crumbling, handwritten ledger at the Jewish cemetery. There were six Blitzsteins and six gravesites, including that of his great-uncle. His question: Were any Blitzsteins left in Cuba?

At Kabbalat Shabbat at the Patronato Synagogue in Havana, Sam met 20-year-old Ana Claudia Rodriguez. The next evening at Havdalah, he saw her again. Soon, they started talking about the Holocaust and shared family stories.

“When she heard I was a Blitzstein, Ana said, ‘That’s my mother’s maiden name.’” She called her mother, who immediately came over, bringing Ana’s sister, 17-year-old Enya Daniela. Overwhelmed by the bashert of meeting long-lost family, he adds: “It was so emotional, discovering my cousins in Cuba.”

The group – Cuban and American, family and friends – celebrated Shabbat together. “As they sang the Adon Olam in Hebrew with their Spanish accents and we sang it in Hebrew with our English accents, it was clear how similar we are,” says Cheri Hurwitz, who co-chaired the mission with her husband David.

Once a thriving population of 15,000, Cuba’s Jewish population now numbers 1,200. There are three synagogues (Orthodox, Sephardic and Ashkenazic) and a kosher butcher. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an Associated agency, supports a communal Friday night dinner and funds the Cuban Jewish Relief Project, which keeps shelves at the Patronato Synagogue stocked with necessities. The Baltimore group brought medical supplies, clothing and children’s activities.

The trip changed Sam’s life. “I came home with family and new friends I never expected to have.” The experience soon inspired his volunteering at Weinberg Senior Living. “I’ve been so many places in the world – Europe, South America,” Sam said, “None meant as much to me as these five days in Cuba.”

Privacy Policy | Terms of Service