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Back to Cuba

Anthropologist Ruth Behar keeps returning to the place her family left behind

Alicia Zuckerman
November 26, 2007

Ruth Behar’s family left Cuba when she was five years old, as part of the mass of migrants who fled shortly after Castro came to power in 1959. Behar grew up in Queens, New York, and the closest she ever got to the island were the trips her family took down to Miami Beach to visit her grandparents each summer. There, she would bask in the tropical climate and the vitality of the Jewish Cuban community.

Behar loved those visits, but as she got older, she found herself increasingly drawn to Cuba itself. Finally, in 1991, against the wishes of her parents, she went. And she kept going back; at this point, she estimates she’s traveled to Cuba about 40 times.

Out of those trips comes a new book, An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba. It is filled with the stories of people Behar has encountered in the course of her travels. Recently, while in Miami, she spoke with reporter Alicia Zuckerman about her attachment to the place and its centrality to her Jewish identity.

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Julie Subrin is Tablet Magazine’s executive producer for audio.