This mission will give 30 to 40 Boulder residents a rare glimpse at Jewish life in Cuba.

Preview of the Groundbreaking BJCC Mission to Cuba

Headshot of Kathryn Bernheimer
Kathryn Bernheimer, program director of the Boulder JCC, will be among those traveling to Cuba. She first visited the island, where her grandparents lived, when she was 6 or 7 years old.

The upcoming Boulder Jewish Mission to Cuba, scheduled for January 2014, will be a first of its kind in several respects.

For 30 to 40 local residents, the trip will present a rare opportunity as Americans to experience first-hand the culture, history and people of the communist island nation.  Rarer still, they’ll be exploring Cuba through a Jewish lens.

Organized by Menorah and the Boulder Jewish Community Center, the 8-day, 7-night journey is structured as a learning and humanitarian undertaking, aimed at fostering a clearer understanding of Cuban Jewry, which saw its first significant wave of Jewish immigration as early as 1910.

Lore holds that Jews likely were among the crew of Columbus’s voyage to the New World in 1492 and first docked in Cuba along with him.  In 1906, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, 11 American Jews founded Cuba’s first synagogue, which islanders consider the beginning of the modern Cuban Jewish era.

The Cuba mission is both the first organized excursion of any Boulder Jewish group to Cuba and the first travel experience being offered by the Boulder JCC.

Kathryn Bernheimer, the JCC’s program director, who is coordinating the mission, has a very personal Cuba connection.  She visited her German refugee grandparents in Cuba when she was only 6 or 7 years old, and her grandfather is buried there.

Bernheimer is a guest on the July 21st edition of Radio Chavura, broadcast each Sunday in Denver at 6:30 pm on 990 KRKS AM and available 24/7 to stream or download at

“We not going to sit on the beach,” Bernheimer tells hosts Maxwell and Dean Rotbart, who recently interviewed her in Boulder.  In fact, all of the activities will revolve around the Cuban Jewish community, both past and present, including lectures; cultural exchanges with community members in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara; and visits to landmarks, such as the Jewish cemetery in Guanabacoa.

Prior to the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959, the Cuban Jewish community numbered about 15,000.  As of 2007, according to the New York Times, that number dwindled to an estimated 1,500.

“They are very much in decline and small today” Bernheimer says.

Escorting those travelling on the Boulder JCC mission will be Chicago’s Miriam Levinson, herself a Cuban-born Jew, who has lead more than 100 such trips to Cuba since 2000.

“One of the things that appealed to me about Miriam is that she really understands Cuban Jewish History,” says Bernheimer, praising Levinson’s ability to spot the Jewish component of art and cultural icons that other tour guides would likely overlook.

While the Boulder JCC mission to Cuba will serve as a unique travel experience for those who participate, Bernheimer says she anticipates the benefits will also accrue to participants upon the group’s return to Boulder, in the form of newly formed friendships, camaraderie, and a sense of local community.

Those interested in participating in the Boulder JCC Cuba mission have only until August 15th to register.  The cost is $3,500 per person, double occupancy, not including roundtrip airfare to Miami, and some other incidental expenses.

The trip departs Miami on Tuesday, January 14th and returns to Colorado on Monday, January 21st.  For more information, contact Bernheimer via email:

Also on Sunday’s Radio Chavura, meet Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a local Jewish community leader and entrepreneur who traveled to all 50 states in search of community problem solvers and idea generators.  Jenet, president of The Journey Institute, shares her experiences and the insights she gleaned.

About Dean Rotbart

Dean Rotbart, a Pulitzer Prize nominated former columnist and editor at The Wall Street Journal, is co-host of Radio Chavura, a weekly program focused on Colorado's vibrant Jewish community. The show is co-hosted by Dean's son, Maxwell, a recent graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver. Radio Chavura can be streamed from or downloaded from the iTunes store.

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