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Until the 1959 revolution which ended in Fidel Castro’s transformation of Cuba into a socialist state, Jews numbered 10,000. In 2007, about 1000 Jews, mostly poor and elderly, remain in a population of 11 million. Cuba won freedom from Spain in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War. In the 16th century, Marranos, forced converts who practiced Judaism in secret, came to Cuba to escape persecution in other parts of Latin America. For a short time they prospered, playing an important part in developing Cuba’s sugar industry. Finally, the Inquisition, which sought to wipe out all non-Catholic faiths, reached the island, and the Marrano community disappeared. Although religious persecution ceased in 1783, it was not until Cuba gained its independence that Jews began to immigrate in large numbers. The first to come were American Jews, who formed an independent community. At about the same time, many Sephardic Jews from Turkey and Morocco arrived. The influx of East European Jews began only after 1924, when the U.S. shut its doors to immigrants. Strict immigration laws passed in the 1930’s prevented further growth of the community. Today, about half of Cuba’s Jews are descendants of the Sephardic immigrants; the rest are divided between a “North American” and an East European community.

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