Rigoberto Vinas

Juban Sefardic Tisha B’Av Memories

Being a Cuban Sefardic rabbi is never easy. It’s a blessing but it isn’t easy! It’s even harder for me this year as we commemorate the sad holiday of Tisha(ng) B’Av this 26 & 27 of July, 2023.

The 26th of July (M-26-7) is also the name used by the Cuban Communist Revolution that dubbed itself the 26th of July Movement, in memory of their ruthless assault of a military hospital and barracks in 1953 in Santiago de Cuba. This assault was a failure. Castro and his men were arrested and jailed as a result of their violent revolutionary attempts to overthrow the Batista government. Castro and his band were sentenced to 15 years in prison for this violent assault but in 1955, Castro was unfortunately released as part of an amnesty agreement in the hopes of creating peace and reconciliation. Instead of that, the Castro brothers and their band of socialist sympathizers exiled themselves to Mexico where they continued to organize their return to Cuba to continue their armed struggle for power. In memory of their first attempt to impose themselves upon the Cuban people, they named their political party after the date of the attack and have even named their government sponsored propaganda rag, the state controlled  newspaper the “Granma” after the ship they originally used in that initial failed attack. This date that became the name of their political party eventually merged with the Cuban Communist Party and was the  moniker they used to try to popularize their dictatorial governance after they were finally successful in the overthrow of Batista. To this day, the very mention of this date evokes sad memories for the millions of victims of that totalitarian dictatorship that has ruled Cuba and exported misery throughout the world for over 63 years.

M-26-7, like Tisha Bav is “a day that lives in infamy,” because to date, this revolutionary communist party continues to dictate in tyranny as the SOLE political party in governance on all levels of Cuban society since 1959. The Castro’s dictatorship with its well documented record of  human rights abuses, imposed hunger and misery, concentration camps to punish dissent, and its imposed lack of even the most basic human freedoms caused millions of refugees to flee their country. My parents were among them. My neighbors were all refugees of the dictatorship and even now in 2023 hundreds of thousands of Cuban seek to escape it tyranny.

When the “26th of July” was mentioned in my home it was a day of lament and mourning for our entire community. Miami is home to millions of the victims of the 26th of July Movement and even we their children have never forgotten their continued abuses of our brethren’s most basic rights for over 63 years! We continue to long for the day that M-26-7 will simply be a memory of the repression the Cuban people lived AND overcame.

July 26th is the Tisha BAv of the Cuban people!

On that date the regime has celebrations in the streets of Cuba showcasing their military power as they chant the phrase that was coined by Che’ Guevara, an icon of the communist revolution, “Patria o Muerte’ Homeland or death, which to us is an explicit warning that if the citizens don’t submit to the revolution’s tyranny, that they will be killed. This is in fact is why the “J11 Movement” named after the date of July 11th, 2021, when ordinary citizens took to the streets of Cuba to demand liberty, chanted “Patria y Vida” Homeland and Life rather than death after a popular group of artist’s song that demands freedom and life rather than the constant fear imposed by the dictatorship. Those artists are now imprisoned in Cuba’s jails for expressing political dissent, a “crime” that one party tyranny of Cuba won’t allow.

But this article isn’t just about Cuba and its date of infamy. Its about the hard, painful and sad memories of loss that come to the mind of a Cuban Sefardic rabbi when “the perfect storm” forms and combines the lament for Zion and Jerusalem of all Jews, as we remember the events that led to exile and thousands of years of suffering for the Jewish people on Tisha(ng) B’Av (9 – Av – 70), combined with a memory of the Expulsion from Spain in 1492 (9-Ab-1492) that led to hundreds of years of torture and being burned alive in the ‘Auto-da-fe’, that is part of the collective memory of our people and a painful reality for so many descendants of the Jews of Spain and Portugal who were forcibly converted to Christianity and whose descendants retain an ancestral memory of Judaism even as they live in Christian Cultures.

It’s the experience of being a rabbi who listens on a daily basis to the call of the Jewish soul of the Anusim (the forced ones) the descendants of those ‘ancestros’ that live all over the world and wish to return to Jewish life or whose ancestral memory needs to be awakened. These memories combined with the memory of the horrors of the Cuban Revolution makes this Tisha(ng) BAb, even more painful and meaningful for us.

It’s OUR soulful cry for freedom and restoration born of tragedy and suffering, that our tradition expresses in the Midrash that claims that the 9th of Av, will be the birthdate of the Messiah.

Amen – let it be this year – oh God of mercy, let it be.

About the Author
Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas (“Manny”), grew up in a traditional Sephardic home, born to parents of Cuban Sefardic ancestry who came to America after the Cuban Revolution in 1960. He was born and raised in Miami , Florida. Rabbi Viñas has Rabbinical ordination from Kollel Agudath Achim.
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