Hola Keridas y Keridos,

I know that many of you have been wondering what I’ve been up to since I finished Adio Kerida, my documentary film about the Sephardic Jews of Cuba. Between teaching and travels, I was working on a new book, An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, which has just been published.

You would think that after spending several years on the film, I should have been done with the subject of the Jews and Cuba. Well, I didn’t feel that way. I traveled to film festivals and talked incessantly about Cuban Jews, and the more I talked, the more I realized there was a different story I needed to tell as a writer.

Growing up in New York as a young immigrant child without memories of Cuba, I spent hours gazing at the old black-and-white photographs that my parents and grandparents brought in their suitcases after our hurried departure following the turn to communism in Cuba. I didn’t remember my childhood in Cuba, but the photographs allowed me to imagine a Jewish world I was a part of, if only briefly.

As I thought about those old photographs that I still cherish so much, I decided that the story I wanted to tell about Jewish life in contemporary Cuba needed to be accompanied by a new album of photographs. Only by crafting such an album could I be sure that the Cuba I was seeing, as an adult woman, wouldn’t be lost when the time came to say goodbye again. I had to find a photographer who would work with me to create a memoryscape of the Jewish Cuba that might have been mine had my family stayed on the island.

While hatching this idea, I had the good fortune to meet Humberto Mayol, an award-winning photographer who lives in Havana. I was moved by his thoughtful black-and-white photographs of everyday life in Cuba and his commitment to documenting the revitalization of Afrocuban religions. I asked Humberto if he would be interested in photographing the Jewish revitalization. He was intrigued and agreed right away. Soon we were traveling together around Cuba, he with his camera, I with my pen, looking for and looking at Jews.

The book that emerged from this journey is an album of stories and images. Cuba is perhaps the only place in the world where you find Jewish communists wearing their Che Guevara T-shirts to pray in the synagogue.  Few are Jews by birth; most are Jews by choice, or converts. They have adopted Jewish traditions with the passion of the biblical Ruth, who is considered Judaism’s first convert.  Many women who convert take the name Ruth as their Jewish name.  There are more women named Ruth in Cuba than ever before, which is comforting, because I don’t encounter many Cuban women who have my name.  In Havana, as well as in the provincial cities of Cienfuegos, Caibarién, Santa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Manzanillo, Campechuela, Camagüey, Santiago, Guantánamo, and even Palma Soriano, I found Jews who were keeping Jewish memory alive, giving me hope that I could keep calling the island home—a lost home, but a home nonetheless.



 

Now you’re not going to believe this, but after a movie and a book, I’m still not done with the subject of the Cuban Jews! My next project is a book about the “Jubans,” as they call themselves, the Cuban Jews who remade their home in Miami. I will explore how the Jubans transformed themselves while transforming Miami, playing an important role in turning the city into a global Latino capital.

But honestly, studying Cuban Jews isn’t all I do, though it seems like that at the moment.

If I had to summarize what I am, I’d say I’m a cultural anthropologist who specializes in homesickness. I’m a memoirist who suffered from amnesia as a child after leaving Cuba. That must be why I’m obsessed with remembering and all the ways that history leaves traces on how we live in the present.

On my website you will find information on a wide range of projects I’ve worked on as a cultural anthropologist. I also write personal essays, stories, and poems, and I have included some samples here. Lots of people ask how I’ve managed to combine scholarship with artistic pursuits, so I’ve tried to be comprehensive, giving equal attention to the different sides of my personality and my work.

Thank you for your interest in learning about my journeys. I look forward to meeting many of you on my upcoming book tour, or hearing from you via a blog on this website (soon to come) or email.

Un abrazo,
RUTH