✈ Keeping Kosher in Havana (Habana), Cuba


Last updated: August 18, 2011

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Contributed by: Noam Hazan | Last Date of Travel: June 2008

Kosher Info: If you’re planning a trip to Cuba anytime soon and you prefer not to starve then I would suggest you plan your trip very carefully! Prawns, lobster and calamarimay look appetising but they are not very kosher!

You have two options:

1: Buy lots of Osem packet soups, Nutri-Grain bars and crackers, but although we didn’t get checked it may be a little risky at customs.

2. When you get there buy a small little slow cooker or as some may call it, a cholent pot!

Beleieve it or not, its almost impossible for tourists to buy fruit or vegetables and even less likely to find a semi-stocked supermarket. All American products are banned and you probably won’t find anything with a hechsher (apart from Manchester Beit Din Pasta for some odd reason). Buying a slow cooker is perfect, not too expensive and it can also be used to heat water. Prepare yourselves for lots of Pasta, Spaghetti, Pasta and even more spaghetti! 

A good idea is to start a competition between your fellow travellers as to who can make the best dinner. This triggers competitiveness and will likely influence a larger variety of food – CAPITALISM woo hoo!!

Tourist Info: There is lots to see in Havana, but I wouldn’t recommend staying there for more then a couple of days since your so close to the beautiful Caribbean coast.

If you smoke, Cuba is the place for you! Smoking is allowed inside any public place including the famous cigar factories. Make sure that before you schlep half way around Havana looking for the cigar factory that actually exists, you must got to the Saratoga Hotel to buy your entry tickets.

Although buying Cuban cigars is a lot cheaper in Cuba then anywhere else it still isn’t THAT cheap. Ask your factory tour guide (quietly) if he/she will meet up with you after hours to get a better price but don’t pay more then $50 for a box of 25 and make sure it has all the correct stickers and stamps on the box!! The cigars that are offered in the street are likely to be fake. Cubans are good and fetch for over $800 in Ben-Gurion Airport’s duty free (I’ve checked).

Museums: Cuban Museum Guide

Cuba’s tourist office (including the Lonely Planet’s) description of their museums are entirely glamorized. The Museum of the Revolution is interesting but the exhibits are old, badly translated and very long!

The Chocolate Museum is not a museum! it’s is a cafe that serves types of chocolate and has some posters on the wall about the history of chocolate. Once you manage to squeeze past the coffee tables to get to the posters you then realize that you don’t speak Spanish and can’t understand a thing!

Car Museum: There are much better cars in the street so save your money!

Night Life:

In Cuba its all about Salsa, so a lesson or two would not do you any harm! There are many Salsa bars in Cuba, and if you are a fan then you should not miss a live performance at the Casa de Musica. There are two, one in town and one a little further out. Entry is around $10.

Cabaret shows can be fun, especially if you like seeing men running around in spandex and feathers. To be honest the show isn’t too bad, you get a table and there is a cool Russian acrobatic act in the middle. Costs around $35 dollars in the Hotel National and around $75 in the amphitheater.
Beware of Cuban men trying to befriend you because they will expect you to trade your $40 shirt for theirs.

Jewish Info:

THE JEWISH TOUR OF HAVANA – if you look relatively Jewish, you may get approached by an elderly Jew who will offer to give you a tour of the Jewish quarter. Its very interesting and lasts for approximately 40 minutes. Unfortunately I don’t have any contact details but if you have a massive Magen David, make sure its hanging out! Either way, if you’re near the the Car or Chocolate ‘museums’, the old Kosher butcher, ‘Jewish’ Hotel, Holocaust memorial and Sephardi Synagogue are not too far. (Note: I don’t think anything is kosher and that the Sephardi synagogue is being refurbished into a Jewish Museum).
There are three synagogues in Havana, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
The orthodox shul holds meals on Friday night and Shabbat but unfortunately I’m not entirely sure how kosher it is, so check with a Chabad in your home country before you go. (There is no chabad in Cuba)
The orthodox Shul is called Singoga Adath Israel which is off a street called Belgica. They say that the kosher butcher only serves kosher meat on Tuesdays and that you have to kasher the meat yourself. I’m not a Rabbi but it doesn’t seem very kosher to me, if you know what i mean!
You may notice that some people wear Magen Davids, there is never any harm in making conversation but there is a high possibility that they just a fan of Bob Marley (The star of david is very popular in Rastafarian culture).
If you’re able to visit Cuba… enjoy!

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  • Erica

    Sorry Noam — but you are wrong on several counts. I spent three months in Cuba in 2008, studying there for the semester and here is what I found:

    1. Its fine for you to bring food in for yourself as long as you aren’t bringing 6 suitcases of it.

    2. Fruits and vegetables are EVERYWHERE! And anyone can buy them — FOR INCREDIBLY CHEAP! Cheap as in, 10 mangos for a dollar, 8 guavas for a dollar, oranges for $.00.10 each. All you have to do is find an “agro-market,” any hotel can tell you how to find one and there is guaranteed to be one nearby anywhere in Havana.

    3. The conservative shul/Patronato is the place to go. The Orthodox shul is really only orthodox in separation of women and men while the conservative shul has a more authentic service where far more people understand what is going on. The Cuban Jewish community is full of amazing, fantastic, smart, intelligent people who are so proud of their Judaism. All of the children go to Hebrew School on Sunday, their families are involved, and it is a very tight knit, wonderful, and admirable community that I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss.

    There is no reform synagogue — there is the Patronato/Beth Shalom – the main synagogue (conservative), Orthodox Agudat Israel (in name only…and not very nice to the other Cuban Jews), and Orthodox Sephardi shul — however all of the synagogues have a mix of Ashkenazim and Sephardim and most congregants are of mixed origins themselves.

    4. There is a kosher butcher, you just have to know how to find him and you don’t need to kasher the meat yourself…you need to bring him a chicken.

    The old man who gives tours is very knowledgable. But don’t be fooled, Salomon (the old man) has plenty of money. Ask him his life story. He was born in Romania and fled the Holocaust. He went to Canada, but missed Cuba and came back. He claims to be the only one on the island fluent in Yiddish, which I don’t doubt.

    Cuba has SO much Jewish history — ask anyone at the synagogues (specifically Adela at the Patronato) and you will be amazed!

  • Desiree

    Erica,
    I’m glad you responded and corrected Noam.
    We were there in February 2009 – I headed a religious mission from our synagogue and we donated a Torah to the Sephardic Synagogue. It was the best trip I’ve ever been on and I look forward to our second mission in 2010. I found the Jews in Cuba to be wonderful people.
    The Kosher butcher happens to also be one of the lay leaders of the Sephardic shul.

    Salomon the Schnorer is mentioned in two outstanding books about Jewish Cuba. He is quite a charactor and just adds to the

  • Marcus

    I was just there and Chabad had all kinds of holiday programs. They do not have an actuall base, but they are very much active!

  • Marcus
  • Noam, Thanks for starting the dialog and sharing enthusiasm for jewish / kosher travel in Cuba. We’ve been talking Jewish and Kosher folks to Cuba for over 15 years and are more than happy to answer any questions you or your friends might have! #koshercubatravel #othercubanjourneys http://www.othercubanjourneys.com