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 as the years passed, the many Jews who came there from war-torn Europe remained, and the beloved island ceased to be a hotel and eventually became 'home'. Then Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. The majority of the Jews soon broke with 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. 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 those who remained. "An Island Called Home" is the story of Behar's return to learn about the people who are keeping Judaism alive in Cuba today. Unlike the exotic image projected by the American media, Behar uncovers a side of Cuban Jews that is poignant and personal.
Her poetic and passionate vignettes of those she meets are coupled with the sensitive photographs of Havana-based photographer Humberto Mayol, whose shadowy and riveting images create an unforgettable portrait of a community that many have seen though few have understood. In the words of Sandra Cisneros, author of "Caramelo", 'Ruth Behar's "An Island Called Home" is a kaddish, an offering, dedicated to the exiles and to the children of the exiles and for those wandering still, searching for their homes. May they 'not be given up for lost'.
RUTH BEHAR is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. The recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellows award, she is the author of The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropoloty That Breaks Your Heart and director of the documentary, Adio Kerida: A Cuban Sephardic Journey. She recently co-edited a new anthology, The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World. The author's Web site is www.ruthbehar.com HUMBERTO MAYOL is an award-winning photographer living in Havana, Cuba. His work has been widely exhibited in Cuba, the United States, Europe, and Latin America.
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