Following the visit to the synagogue, we traveled to the city’s Jewish cemetery. David read a prayer in Spanish that a Road Scholar participant read simultaneously in English
. It was a very moving moment for all. We ended the day at the Che Guevara Memorial. Santa Clara was the site of a very important battle in Cuba’s history. Che’s image is everywhere in Cuba; it’s almost as ubiquitous as Fidel’s. There was a tomb for Che and his compatriots, but doubt lingers as to whether his body is actually buried there. There were no cameras allowed in the tomb but there is an imposing statue out front with a phrase that is seen all over the island: ‘Hasta la Victoria, Siempre.’
We then strolled down the main drag of Cienfuegos. We saw supermarkets that were a sharp contrast between the Cuban ration stores. Cuba is one of the only countries that I’ve visited that has two forms of currency: Cuban pesos for Cubans and Cuban Convertible Pesos for everyone else.
Our small group had an in-depth discussion at lunch and dinner, mostly about the dearth of patrons at the restaurants. Most Cubans cannot afford to eat in restaurants and it wasn’t quite tourist season. It’s incredible that the businesses could afford to stay in business until we were reminded that they are government owned. Customers aren’t needed for survival.
The day began in Santa Clara at the Santa Clara Performing Arts School, where young adults from around the region come to study music and dance. Graduates can go on to teach and study at the college level, with the goal of one day ‘going pro.’ The students were phenomenal and performed traditional and contemporary original works. We then went to the Santa Clara synagogue, the first to be built in the city. It was a labor of love for a David, a leader in the Jewish community who has dedicated 20 years of his life to creating this local place of worship for the hundreds of Jews in the province. We were able to leave medical supplies for the community to be distributed by the synagogue.