Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kosher chicken now available in Cuba

CJN Intern

A halachic-based humanitarian and educational organization has begun slaughtering kosher chickens for the Cuban community on an ongoing basis.

“Even though in the past we had periodic chicken slaughtering… [From now on] every few weeks we’ll have another few slaughterers go down,” said Rabbi Simon Aisenbach, executive director of the Canadian Friends of Cuban Jewry (CFCJ).

“Every two to three weeks, a team goes down there to slaughter chickens, and we’d love to do more, but it’s based on how much we can put together. It’s a very costly project, but the more money we get the more we can do.”

The organization pays $6.80 for each chicken.

Rabbi Aisenbach said it’s difficult for the average Cuban to access poultry or meat on a regular basis.

“It’s very costly and the average individual makes very little there,” he said. “They have a few dollars that they accumulate, they’ll spend it on something else, like vegetables and eggs, which you can get more of for that same price.”

Two hundred and twenty families receive the 500 kosher chickens from the CFCJ. The number of chickens distributed to each family varies according to need, said Aisenbach.

Cuba’s only Orthodox synagogue, Adath Israel, serves as CFCJ’s distribution centre.

While the organization has made strides making chicken available, there is still some work that needs to be done before kosher beef is available to Cuba’s Jewish community, which Rabbi Aisenbach estimates to be around 1,000 and is centred mainly in Havana.

He said that while it is possible for the community to obtain a certain number of cattle from the government, “it’s not simple for them [the government] yet to digest this concept that in Jewish law a big part of the animal would not be kosher, and a big part of the animal, which maybe is kosher, is not halachically allowed to be eaten.”

“The Halachah with beef is a lot more complicated. There are tens and maybe hundreds of details, which… exist in kosher slaughter, pertaining [to] the cattle versus the chicken,” he said.

The CFCJ wrapped up its 101st mission to Cuba on July 9. The next group of shochtim (kosher slaughterers), all of whom are from South America, arrived in Cuba July 16 for a three-week stay.

The CFCJ, founded in 1994, is Chabad’s official representation in Cuba.

Its annual summer camp there, Gan Israel, begins July 23 and wraps up on Aug. 31.

The camp program is structured for the children, but parents or older siblings are invited to enjoy a day out and have a good, satisfying meal and “to enjoy different experiences that they cannot and would not all year round,” Rabbi Aisenbach said.

“We provide these kids with meals on a daily basis, and we thought we could provide the parents as well with the physical sustenance as well as the educational component.”

Rabbi Aisenbach said religious education and spiritual support is provided solely to the Jewish community, but the organization will not deny anyone humanitarian assistance, regardless of religion.

“We never differentiate, not only with the halachic Jew, but between the Jew and the non-Jew at all,” he said. “Even recently, we got a call for help to provide medicine from a completely non-Jewish couple. As much as we can, we try to help everybody. It’s important to help every human being for that matter.”

Rabbi Aisenbach is pleased with how his organization has been received by Cuba’s small Jewish community.

“It means everything for them, the fact that they know that they have an address and literally whatever they need, besides the ongoing humanitarian aid distribution,” he said.

“We have our representatives there, and anyone can turn to them, at any moment, with any subject, be it religious, educational or primarily humanitarian… [For] anything like shoes, clothes and medicine, [the community can] turn to us.”

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