Scott Berenthal’s father, Saul, was born in Havana in 1944, to Romanian and Polish parents. Saul grew up in the Miramar neighborhood, and his family moved to Miami in 1961. After a nearly 50-year absence, he returned for the first time in 2008.
Initially, after witnessing challenges around food production on the island, Saul and his business partner tried hard to open a tractor company to help spur agricultural development. When that fell through, he turned to another area of possible opportunity: tourism.
As a member of the Jewish community in Havana, Saul was able to bring together multiple interests by opening the island’s first and only kosher hotel specializing in Jewish Cuba — Chateau Blanc — in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood.
“I’d say the majority of our guests are Jewish, with many coming on synagogue trips to learn about Jewish Cuba…”Scott Berenthal
Today, there are about 1,500 Jews living in Cuba, most of them descendants from Central and Eastern Europeans who fled persecution in the period between World Wars I and II. Many members of the Jewish community then left the island after the 1959 Revolution and subsequent bans on practicing religion. Several recent books have brought new attention to the history of Jews in Cuba, including Ruth Behar’s Letters from Cuba and The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa. Perhaps the books will pique your interest if you’re looking to learn more Jewish history on the island. And if you decide to make the trip, we recommend a stay at Chateau Blanc.
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The seven-room casa, established in 2018, sleeps up to 22 guests and is run with local Cubans who participate in profit-sharing. The Berenthal family and their coworkers are big believers in the future of Cuba and want to do their part to build it.
The casa is certified by International Kosher Mehadrin (IKM), and is proud to provide the only kosher-compliant facility in Cuba.
We caught up with Scott to ask about the casa’s clientele, and the family’s hopes and aspirations for the project. “I’d say the majority of our guests are Jewish, with many coming on synagogue trips to learn about Jewish Cuba, bring aid, and experience a country like none other in the world. We put together itineraries that expose people to the history of migration to Cuba, and give them a first-hand look at what life was like during Cuba’s ‘heyday’ since we lived it. We take our guests to the three synagogues, visit the Jewish cemetery and see the Holocaust exhibition at Centro Sefaradi, where they can learn about Cuba’s major wave [of Jewish immigrants].”
Like most people working in the tourist industry in Cuba, the pandemic has been devastating to an economy that is highly dependent on visitors bringing in hard currency. “We’re fortunate in that we were able to remain afloat even without guests,” says Scott. “We have done virtual events with groups to continue to build interest for an eventual return to normalcy. Our bigger concern is for the Cuban people and the local Jewish community whose supply of medicine, food, and other aid has dropped significantly.”
The casa is certified by International Kosher Mehadrin (IKM), and is proud to provide the only kosher-compliant facility in Cuba. Besides the catering and programming aimed at Jewish visitors to the island, Chateau Blanc also supports local projects. “We work with our guests and Pack for a Purpose to help bring in the aid and assistance that the local community desperately needs,” including for the pharmacy at the Patronato synagogue, which has historically been one of the best-stocked facilities in the city. They were also part of a project to restore grave sites at Guanabacoa, the oldest Jewish burial site in Cuba, established in 1910. They are also working on other initiatives including opening a kosher bakery.
At a broader level, our business helps continue to build the local private economy, which is critical for growth and prosperity.
“We’re proud to be making a difference in the lives of the people of our community, both Jews and non-Jews. As Jews of the diaspora, it’s important for us to remain connected with one another and the best way to do that is to make the world aware of our existence… At a broader level, our business helps continue to build the local private economy, which is critical for growth and prosperity. Our operators on the ground in Havana are all local Cubans and they have an ownership stake in the business. This gives them [a chance] to earn a better living, but more importantly, it provides an opportunity to learn about commerce and economics which hopefully will spur further innovation and entrepreneurship.”
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Chateau Blanc offers a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in Jewish Cuba, while making an impact on the local economy and community.
Ave. Zoológico No. 103 entre 36 y 38
Nuevo Vedado Municipio Plaza
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