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Dr. Jose Miller - The Strength of the Community

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  • Walter Lippmann
    Dr. Jose Miller - The Strength of the Community PHOTOS: http://jewishcuba.org/miller.html In my preparations for writing an article on Dr. Jose Miller,
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 1, 2006
    • 0 Attachment
      Dr. Jose Miller - The Strength of the Community

      PHOTOS:
      http://jewishcuba.org/miller.html

      In my preparations for writing an article on Dr. Jose Miller,
      president of the Joint Coordinating Committee (J.C.C.) and thereby
      leader of the Jewish community in Cuba as well as President of La
      Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba and the Beit Shalom synagogue, I
      spent many hours watching his movements and actions around the
      Patronato, Havana's Jewish Community Center. Dr. Miller's reputation
      had come to me in many forms, and I wanted to observe the man myself
      before interviewing him. He had been described to me in several
      terms, many of them contradictory, all of them interesting.

      "He is a strong leader," I was told. "He has kept the community
      together, through its darkest and most difficult times."

      "He cares for everyone," someone else told me. "He will take the time
      to speak to anyone coming in, he meets all the groups that visit, he
      spends his spare time at the Patronato making sure things are going
      well."

      "His knowledge of Cuba's Jewish community is immense," says another.
      "Just ask him anything you want, and he will know something about
      it."

      "He may not have time for you," another person told me. "He is very
      busy and if he does not think what you are doing is important you may
      not be able to speak with him."

      This last comment proved untrue. After a week or so of hanging around
      the Patronato I told Dr. Miller I would like an "entrevista," an
      interview, and that I would get a translator so we could do it in
      Spanish. He agreed to this and we set a time several days away. The
      day came and I knew that events would probably interfere, and that
      the interview might get put off for hours or days or even a week or
      so. But on that day, as I waited outside watching Havana's traffic
      flowing on Linea and the streets near the synagogue, Miller came out
      the door and said "Let's go." There was no translator available, and
      we did the interview in English, in which Miller is fluent.

      We went upstairs to the main sanctuary, where I took a few photos,
      then Miller sat in one of the empty seats and we began our
      conversation. For the next two hours the talk would range over many
      topics, including the necessary adaptations of Judaism made by the
      Cubans to ensure the survival of the religion in that country, why
      Miller stayed in Cuba when ninety percent of the Jewish population
      left, the Russian presence, the loosening restrictions on all
      religions in 1991, and other subjects. Miller's range of knowledge is
      great, as I was told.

      I started with a question I thought I knew the answer to, but was
      wrong. "When was the most difficult time for Cuban Judaism?" I asked,
      expecting to be told that it was in 1959 when the Jewish population
      was around 15,000 and quickly diminished to around 1,500.

      "No, that's not it," says Miller. "Those were hard times but not the
      worst. The worst came in 1938 and 1939 when the Nazis spent a lot of
      money here trying to create anti-Semitism in Cuba. Those were
      dangerous times for us. But it did not work. Cuba did not become
      anti-Semitic, and even today you can see that it is not."

      This lack of anti-Semitism in Cuba is observed by many, although
      official support for Israel is lacking from the government. Miller
      smiles as he discusses this. "I will never say one word against
      Israel to please anyone," he says. "I will discuss this only with
      Jews."

      And then he says, in a remark which is profound in the complex
      environment in which he lives, "You cannot oblige me to think like
      you."

      This adherence to principles, even in difficult times, has enabled
      Dr. Miller to help keep Judaism alive and vital in Cuba. "We were not
      able to get a minyan for services," he says. "So we had to decide.
      Should we not have services, or should we include women? We included
      women, we were able to get a minyan, and we had services."

      Miller also approaches the concept of Jewish identity with
      flexibility. "It is not necessary to have a Jewish mother to be
      considered Jewish in our congregation," says Miller. "If somewhere in
      your family there is someone who was Jewish, an uncle, a grandparent,
      we will consider you Jewish." This open attitude is supported by
      recent studies which indicate a large proportion of Cuba's population
      has Jewish roots. (See the related article from the Miami Herald.) It
      has also helped rebuild the Jewish population by not keeping to a
      strict Orthodox interpretation of who is Jewish and who is not.

      Our conversation has moved outside and Miller takes time to discuss
      the cleaning of the synagogue's marble steps. There is a detailed
      discussion with the workman as to what methods will be used, and what
      cleaners are appropriate. After all the details are agree upon, we
      move downstairs to the library, where it is cooler. I asked Miller
      how he would describe the congregation's affiliation.

      "We are more Conservative," he says. "We cannot be Reform or
      Orthodox, because most of our members prefer the conservative
      services. And I don't need tefillin to remind myself that I am a Jew,
      even though when I saw a photo of Julius Rosenberg buried with
      tallit, I was impressed by that photo."

      The complexities of being Jewish in Cuba are made more complicated by
      other factors. "Marx hating being Jewish," says Miller. "He was the
      Jewish grandson of a rabbi and hated it. And for this reason I cannot
      be a Marxist."

      "The revolution in Cuba was not against Judaism," he continues.
      "Economically the Jewish community was strong, but then businesses
      disappeared, and there was no economic future for businessmen. So the
      sooner they left the better. But I never thought about leaving. I had
      four children here, and I stayed."

      Dr. Miller, whose parents came from Lithuania, is a medical school
      graduate in dentistry, with 30 years of private practice. After 1960,
      with the proliferation of firearms in the country, Miller says there
      were many accidents, so he developed a specialty in reconstructive
      surgery, particularly reconstructive surgery of the face. He worked
      in both the general and military hospital, and in 1972 became head of
      his specialty in Havana's largest hospital, where he worked for 22
      years.

      He is uncomfortable with being described as the "Patriarch" of Cuba's
      Jewish community, or as "Father" of the community. "I don't talk
      about me," Miller says, and I found this to be true, that he was more
      comfortable talking about his community than talking about himself.
      "Talk about what we were, and are now. "

      "When the community started rebuilding," he says, "reality was
      distant from Jewish traditions. When the Joint Distribution Committee
      (JDC) came to Cuba, conservative rabbis came to draw guidelines, to
      make us more kosher." Miller gives great credit to the JDC in helping
      to rebuild, but also says, "We have appreciated the help of the
      Americans, Canadians and others who have helped us in our efforts to
      draw closer to our Jewish heritage ."

      After the Russians departed, Miller believes that Cuba had to change.
      "Castro had to change," he says, "and he had to adapt to survive. He
      invited in people like Milton Friedman to give economic advice. It
      was a time of rebuilding, for the country as well as for our Jewish
      community."

      Our conversation is interrupted again by several people, including
      the JDC's Nestor Szewach, who has some Passover arrangements to
      discuss, and Miller's wife Dahlia, who also works at the Patronato
      and has an urgent call for Miller from Argentina.

      When he has finished with his phone call, Miller looks at me and
      says, "Dahlia is my second wife (photo at right). My first wife, who
      is William's grandmother (William Miller is the head of the
      Patronato's ORT program) died, and I later married Dahlia. She was
      not Jewish, and converted. I have two children from my first
      marriage, a daughter in Florida, a son in Israel. My son in Israel
      wanted to be officially Jewish by Israeli law, and was converted by
      an Orthodox Sephardic rabbi."

      In 1993 Miller had a heart attack and was treated in Fairfax,
      Virginia. In 2001 he had a recurrence of the symptoms. "How are you
      now?" I ask. "I'm taking care of myself," he replies. "I'm eating
      better and being more careful about my health."

      In the three weeks I was in Cuba I spent many hours observing Dr.
      Jose Miller and his activities. Whether he was speaking to an
      individual, or to a family at a Bar Mitzvah, or to a group of
      visiting synagogue members from another country, or just responding
      to the community's needs, he exhibited a strong commitment to
      Judaism. In a country which has lost 90 percent of its Jewish
      population to other countries, and in which the practice of religion
      was discouraged for decades, only strong leadership could keep the
      religion viable and thriving. Dr. Jose Miller has met the challenges
      of revitalizing Judaism in Cuba, and remains one of the main
      strengths of Cuba's Jewish community.

      Article by Richard Smith

      March 2004
    • Walter Lippmann
      Dear Ms. Miller - I m so sorry you didn t have a chance to see your father before his passing. I never met him at all. I m in Cuba right now where I spend a
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 5, 2009
      • 0 Attachment
        Dear Ms. Miller -

        I'm so sorry you didn't have a chance to see your father before
        his passing. I never met him at all. I'm in Cuba right now where
        I spend a lot of time because I direct a primarily-English language
        news service on Cuba. I've met others here in the Jewish community,
        indeed, visited the Patronato twice this week. I've had other items
        about your father in the CubaNews group which I've been working with
        for going on nine years now.

        Please note that I'm not the author of the article, who is someone
        that I don't know. I'm sending your note out to the over 1300
        readers of the CubaNews list for their information.

        How did you find me?

        Best wishes,


        Walter Lippmann
        (my father and his parents lived here in Cuba during World War II.
        If you have Robert Levine's TROPICAL DIASPORA, he's listed in that
        book and a short note appears about him.)
        ===========================================================

        From: mvmiller2001 <mvmiller2001@...>
        Sent: Feb 4, 2009 11:58 AM
        To: Walter Lippmann <walterlx@...>
        Subject: Re: Dr. Jose Miller - The Strength of the Community

        Hello,

        My name is Miriam Miller: Dr. Miller's daughter.
        February 27th is around the corner, and reading about
        my father helps me grieve, maybe because I did noy have
        the chance to say good bye.

        Thanks for thinking so highly of my father. I miss him every
        minute and in every way...but life must go on.

        I just wanted to clarify from your article that:

        From my father's first marriage with my mom Victoria
        they had 2 childrens:

        David (my older brother who lives in Canada since 1988)
        and myself (I live in Florida since 1994). I came
        with my father for his open heart surgery and never went
        back to Cuba, deciding to stay.

        My nephew William is David's son.

        As you already know, my mom died.

        From the second marriage with my step mom Dalia, I have
        two more brothers: Mihail, who also lives in Florida
        since 1991, and Irving who lives in Israel since
        1995. Irving (my youngest brother) is the one that
        was converted by the Israeli Law.

        Thanks one more time.

        Regards,

        Miriam.





        --- In CubaNews@yahoogroups.com, "Walter Lippmann" <walterlx@...>
        wrote:
        >
        > Dr. Jose Miller - The Strength of the Community
        >
        > PHOTOS:
        > http://jewishcuba.org/miller.html
        >
        > In my preparations for writing an article on Dr. Jose Miller,
        > president of the Joint Coordinating Committee (J.C.C.) and thereby
        > leader of the Jewish community in Cuba as well as President of La
        > Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba and the Beit Shalom synagogue, I
        > spent many hours watching his movements and actions around the
        > Patronato, Havana's Jewish Community Center. Dr. Miller's reputation
        > had come to me in many forms, and I wanted to observe the man myself
        > before interviewing him. He had been described to me in several
        > terms, many of them contradictory, all of them interesting.
        >
        > "He is a strong leader," I was told. "He has kept the community
        > together, through its darkest and most difficult times."
        >
        > "He cares for everyone," someone else told me. "He will take the
        time
        > to speak to anyone coming in, he meets all the groups that visit, he
        > spends his spare time at the Patronato making sure things are going
        > well."
        >
        > "His knowledge of Cuba's Jewish community is immense," says another.
        > "Just ask him anything you want, and he will know something about
        > it."
        >
        > "He may not have time for you," another person told me. "He is very
        > busy and if he does not think what you are doing is important you
        may
        > not be able to speak with him."
        >
        > This last comment proved untrue. After a week or so of hanging
        around
        > the Patronato I told Dr. Miller I would like an "entrevista," an
        > interview, and that I would get a translator so we could do it in
        > Spanish. He agreed to this and we set a time several days away. The
        > day came and I knew that events would probably interfere, and that
        > the interview might get put off for hours or days or even a week or
        > so. But on that day, as I waited outside watching Havana's traffic
        > flowing on Linea and the streets near the synagogue, Miller came out
        > the door and said "Let's go." There was no translator available, and
        > we did the interview in English, in which Miller is fluent.
        >
        > We went upstairs to the main sanctuary, where I took a few photos,
        > then Miller sat in one of the empty seats and we began our
        > conversation. For the next two hours the talk would range over many
        > topics, including the necessary adaptations of Judaism made by the
        > Cubans to ensure the survival of the religion in that country, why
        > Miller stayed in Cuba when ninety percent of the Jewish population
        > left, the Russian presence, the loosening restrictions on all
        > religions in 1991, and other subjects. Miller's range of knowledge
        is
        > great, as I was told.
        >
        > I started with a question I thought I knew the answer to, but was
        > wrong. "When was the most difficult time for Cuban Judaism?" I
        asked,
        > expecting to be told that it was in 1959 when the Jewish population
        > was around 15,000 and quickly diminished to around 1,500.
        >
        > "No, that's not it," says Miller. "Those were hard times but not the
        > worst. The worst came in 1938 and 1939 when the Nazis spent a lot of
        > money here trying to create anti-Semitism in Cuba. Those were
        > dangerous times for us. But it did not work. Cuba did not become
        > anti-Semitic, and even today you can see that it is not."
        >
        > This lack of anti-Semitism in Cuba is observed by many, although
        > official support for Israel is lacking from the government. Miller
        > smiles as he discusses this. "I will never say one word against
        > Israel to please anyone," he says. "I will discuss this only with
        > Jews."
        >
        > And then he says, in a remark which is profound in the complex
        > environment in which he lives, "You cannot oblige me to think like
        > you."
        >
        > This adherence to principles, even in difficult times, has enabled
        > Dr. Miller to help keep Judaism alive and vital in Cuba. "We were
        not
        > able to get a minyan for services," he says. "So we had to decide.
        > Should we not have services, or should we include women? We included
        > women, we were able to get a minyan, and we had services."
        >
        > Miller also approaches the concept of Jewish identity with
        > flexibility. "It is not necessary to have a Jewish mother to be
        > considered Jewish in our congregation," says Miller. "If somewhere
        in
        > your family there is someone who was Jewish, an uncle, a
        grandparent,
        > we will consider you Jewish." This open attitude is supported by
        > recent studies which indicate a large proportion of Cuba's
        population
        > has Jewish roots. (See the related article from the Miami Herald.)
        It
        > has also helped rebuild the Jewish population by not keeping to a
        > strict Orthodox interpretation of who is Jewish and who is not.
        >
        > Our conversation has moved outside and Miller takes time to discuss
        > the cleaning of the synagogue's marble steps. There is a detailed
        > discussion with the workman as to what methods will be used, and
        what
        > cleaners are appropriate. After all the details are agree upon, we
        > move downstairs to the library, where it is cooler. I asked Miller
        > how he would describe the congregation's affiliation.
        >
        > "We are more Conservative," he says. "We cannot be Reform or
        > Orthodox, because most of our members prefer the conservative
        > services. And I don't need tefillin to remind myself that I am a
        Jew,
        > even though when I saw a photo of Julius Rosenberg buried with
        > tallit, I was impressed by that photo."
        >
        > The complexities of being Jewish in Cuba are made more complicated
        by
        > other factors. "Marx hating being Jewish," says Miller. "He was the
        > Jewish grandson of a rabbi and hated it. And for this reason I
        cannot
        > be a Marxist."
        >
        > "The revolution in Cuba was not against Judaism," he continues.
        > "Economically the Jewish community was strong, but then businesses
        > disappeared, and there was no economic future for businessmen. So
        the
        > sooner they left the better. But I never thought about leaving. I
        had
        > four children here, and I stayed."
        >
        > Dr. Miller, whose parents came from Lithuania, is a medical school
        > graduate in dentistry, with 30 years of private practice. After
        1960,
        > with the proliferation of firearms in the country, Miller says there
        > were many accidents, so he developed a specialty in reconstructive
        > surgery, particularly reconstructive surgery of the face. He worked
        > in both the general and military hospital, and in 1972 became head
        of
        > his specialty in Havana's largest hospital, where he worked for 22
        > years.
        >
        > He is uncomfortable with being described as the "Patriarch" of
        Cuba's
        > Jewish community, or as "Father" of the community. "I don't talk
        > about me," Miller says, and I found this to be true, that he was
        more
        > comfortable talking about his community than talking about himself.
        > "Talk about what we were, and are now. "
        >
        > "When the community started rebuilding," he says, "reality was
        > distant from Jewish traditions. When the Joint Distribution
        Committee
        > (JDC) came to Cuba, conservative rabbis came to draw guidelines, to
        > make us more kosher." Miller gives great credit to the JDC in
        helping
        > to rebuild, but also says, "We have appreciated the help of the
        > Americans, Canadians and others who have helped us in our efforts to
        > draw closer to our Jewish heritage ."
        >
        > After the Russians departed, Miller believes that Cuba had to
        change.
        > "Castro had to change," he says, "and he had to adapt to survive. He
        > invited in people like Milton Friedman to give economic advice. It
        > was a time of rebuilding, for the country as well as for our Jewish
        > community."
        >
        > Our conversation is interrupted again by several people, including
        > the JDC's Nestor Szewach, who has some Passover arrangements to
        > discuss, and Miller's wife Dahlia, who also works at the Patronato
        > and has an urgent call for Miller from Argentina.
        >
        > When he has finished with his phone call, Miller looks at me and
        > says, "Dahlia is my second wife (photo at right). My first wife, who
        > is William's grandmother (William Miller is the head of the
        > Patronato's ORT program) died, and I later married Dahlia. She was
        > not Jewish, and converted. I have two children from my first
        > marriage, a daughter in Florida, a son in Israel. My son in Israel
        > wanted to be officially Jewish by Israeli law, and was converted by
        > an Orthodox Sephardic rabbi."
        >
        > In 1993 Miller had a heart attack and was treated in Fairfax,
        > Virginia. In 2001 he had a recurrence of the symptoms. "How are you
        > now?" I ask. "I'm taking care of myself," he replies. "I'm eating
        > better and being more careful about my health."
        >
        > In the three weeks I was in Cuba I spent many hours observing Dr.
        > Jose Miller and his activities. Whether he was speaking to an
        > individual, or to a family at a Bar Mitzvah, or to a group of
        > visiting synagogue members from another country, or just responding
        > to the community's needs, he exhibited a strong commitment to
        > Judaism. In a country which has lost 90 percent of its Jewish
        > population to other countries, and in which the practice of religion
        > was discouraged for decades, only strong leadership could keep the
        > religion viable and thriving. Dr. Jose Miller has met the challenges
        > of revitalizing Judaism in Cuba, and remains one of the main
        > strengths of Cuba's Jewish community.
        >
        > Article by Richard Smith
        >
        > March 2004
        >

        =========================================
        WALTER LIPPMANN
        Havana, Cuba
        Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/
        "Cuba - Un ParaĆ­so bajo el bloqueo"
        =========================================
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