Meet Katie Fink

A thriving Jewish community exists – even in the most foreign of places.

That’s what Katie Fink discovered when she traveled to Cuba through JDC Entwine, a one-of-a-kind experience for young adults who want to discover meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues. Below, she tells us what she learned and the places she explored on this incredible week-long adventure.

What was it like to experience the Jewish community of Cuba with JDC Entwine?

For me, Judaism has always been associated with an older generation: in the leadership of congregations, in the laypeople, in family life. I was so in awe of the Jewish teenagers of Cuba. The youth lead Friday night services, teach their peers and adults about Jewish tradition, and seek out the community for social activities. I find the Cuban Jewish community to be spirited and vibrant.

What was the highlight of your trip?

I think the highlight of the trip was the Havdalah service. The entire active Jewish population in Havana came together in one room to gather in prayer and be together to say goodbye to Shabbat. It was touching to connect our American Jewish community with the Cuban Jewish community through common tradition and prayers, while swaying and singing together. Later in the evening, we ate dinner together and the young people taught us traditional Cuban dances.

What made this trip unique?

While I have participated in other Jewish trips like Birthright and Jewish Farm School, traveling to Cuba was a completely different experience. My trip to Cuba was my first time traveling with young Jewish professionals from the West Coast – it was interesting to learn what Jewish life is like for my peers across the country.

Additionally, and more dramatically, it was eye-opening to experience a country that is so closed-off from the United States. I knew very little about Cuban culture and daily life. I learned about their trials and tribulations, but also their joys and celebrations. I learned that Cubans love their country, but are also realists about the lack of opportunities presented to them. I am not sure what the future holds for the Jewish community in Cuba, but I do know that the community is full of hope.

How would you describe the Jewish community of Cuba?

The Jewish community in Cuba is a supportive and tight-knit community. Although the Jewish population in Cuba has three unique congregations, it is clear that the community comes together as one to make life better for one another. The community has unique needs since it is an aging population in a socialist country. They have identified specific necessities, and have figured out how to get what they need to thrive. For example, it is challenging to get prescriptions filled on the small island, so the community operates a free pharmacy of the community. For the young people, the synagogue operates weekly dance classes to provide a social outlet and keep the teenagers engaged. Cuba also lacks substantial protein for the population, so the Jewish community feeds its people with a weekly Shabbat chicken dinner. When Cuba can’t provide for its people, the Jewish community does.

Learn more about how you can travel the world with JDC Enwtine. Scholarships for Baltimore participants are made possible through the generosity of the Kolker-Saxon-Hallock Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of The Associated.

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