Weekly Quiz

Fidel Castro

Cuban leader Fidel Castro died last week at the age of 90. What was Fidel Castro’s first significant connection to Jews and Judaism?

Fidel Castro by Russell Thomas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUntil 1973, Israel and Cuba had diplomatic relations, and one of the strongest ties was in the area of agricultural assistance provided by Israel to Cuban farmers. Much of this connection came through the Kibbutz Movement, both because of the expertise of the kibbutz farming industry as well as the socialist underpinnings of the kibbutz movement. As a result of these connections, in 1966 Fidel Castro arranged for his oldest son, Fidel Ángel Castro Diaz-Balart, to spend six months on Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan. In order to keep this quiet, the young man used the name Ángel Diaz-Balart and did not disclose his relationship to the Cuban leader.

B. Raised as a Catholic, Castro recalled that every year at Easter time, he would hear that “God is dead” because the Jews killed him. He said he didn't know what a Jew was, other than a bird with a big nose that was called a Jew bird, so he assumed a bird had killed God. He said that this childhood experience contributed to his belief that anti-Semitism was wrong and based on ignorance.

C. Rum has been distilled on sugarcane plantations in Central and South America as well as in the Caribbean since the early 1600’s, with Jews playing a prominent role, both as owners of many of these plantations as well as through liquor importing businesses led by Samuel Bronfman and Lewis Rosenstiel among others. In Cuba, one of the first distillers of rum was a Jew named Pedro Diago, known as the father of Cuban rum. When Fidel Castro was 16 years old, he got a job working in the sugarcane fields on Diago’s plantation, and because of the poor pay and working conditions he found there, he organized a strike of the plantation workers. This was the beginning of his involvement in socialist politics, as well as his dislike for capitalists, whom he associated largely with Jews because of Pedro Diago.

D. While there have been some Jews living in Cuba for centuries (including many Marranos who had emigrated from Spain to Cuba and other Caribbean Islands), the population grew significantly in the early 1900’s, with immigration from Turkey after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, and as part of the major Eastern European Jewish emigration, particularly after the United States closed their borders to most immigrants in the 1920’s. A number of these Jews, including Fabio Grobart and Enrique Oltuski, played prominent roles in the Cuban revolution, working alongside Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to overthrow the Cuban President Fulgencio Batista.

E. As a boy Fidel Castro learned to play the drums, and by the time he was in high school, he had gained quite a reputation as a performer. At that time Desi Arnaz was just starting out as a bandleader in Havana, and he brought Castro into his band. Many of their gigs were for bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings. At one bar mitzvah, Castro spontaneously started pounding a rhythmic beat as the bar mitzvah boy’s parents, Anna and Louis, were lifted on chairs. Castro began chanting “Ima Anna, Abba Lou. Ima Anna, Abba Lou,” and the entire crowd chimed in as they circled the parents. Years later, after the Cuban Revolution, Desi Arnaz emigrated to the United States where he gained fame as a singer and bandleader, with his most famous song being one he wrote based on his slightly misremembered gig at that bar mitzvah–Babalú.

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The Broadway play Hamilton is in the news, as the cast addressed Mike Pence the other night when he attended a performance of the show. Alexander Hamilton had a little-known connection to Jews. What was it?

Alexander Hamilton - bust x by Marion Doss is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AHamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler had eight children, including their daughter Eliza. Eliza married a Jewish physician and converted to Judaism. Because Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr when Eliza was only four years old, he was not around to see his daughter grow up; however, Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth attended Eliza’s wedding and later attended the bar mitzvah of Eliza’s son Alexander, at Congregation Shearith Israel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

B. While little is known about Hamilton’s mother, she was known to be of French Hugenot and British ancestry. There is some evidence that she was the illegitimate daughter of a member of the Rothschild banking family. While this has not been proven, one piece of evidence for this story is that when Hamilton founded the Bank of New York, among the original members of the bank’s board of governors was Jakob Mayer Rothschild, who was part of the French branch of the family and was one of the two Jewish financiers (the other being Haym Solomon) of the American Revolution.

C. Because Hamilton’s mother had never divorced her first husband, Alexander was considered illegitimate in the eyes of the Anglican church. As a result, he was not allowed to attend the local Anglican school, but instead attended a Jewish Day School where he learned to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

D. Charlestown, where Hamilton grew up on the island of Nevis, had a large Jewish population as a result of immigration from Spain and Portugal at the time of the Inquisition. Hamilton’s best friend growing up was a Jewish boy named Moises de Leon. Hamilton later wrote that he first learned about what freedom meant by going to a Passover seder at his friend Moises’ house, and this influenced his views on liberty and religious freedom in the newly independent United States.

EA number of Jewish newspapers published under Orthodox or Chassidic auspices, such as Hamodia and Di Tzeitung, do not print pictures of women, believing that this violates the custom of tznius, or modesty, and would be offensive to readers. Some papers have even removed women from photographs that they published (for example when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was airbrushed out of the iconic picture at the White House Situation Room as she and others watched the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound by Navy Seals). In a similar vein, one Jewish newspaper covered last week’s incident in which Mike Pence attended the Hamilton performance and was addressed by the cast, but rather than print the name of the show, they referred to the show as “Beefilton.” Editors explained that using the actual name of the show would violate the laws of kashruth and would be offensive to readers.

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Leonard Cohen, z”l

Surely the most famous song written and performed by Leonard Cohen, who passed away last week, is Hallelujah. The song, with its Biblical references to Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba, has been covered by hundreds of performers, including Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainright, Willie Nelson and Justin Timberlake. The song was also featured in the movie Shrek. Which of the following also performed or recorded the song Hallelujah?

Leonard Cohen by Takahiro Kyono is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AThe Canadian Tenors sang a version which was described in Newsweek magazine as a “vomitously overstuffed murdering of the track.”

BBritish singer/songwriter Alexandra Burke won the 2008 X Factor competition, having performed Hallelujah in the final week of competition. A poll in the United Kingdom found Burkes commercially released version of the song to be the tenth worst cover song of all time (behind such choices as William Shatners version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Madonnas cover of American Pie).

CBono recorded a version of the song on the Leonard Cohen tribute album, Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which included an odd rap delivery backed by drum machines and falsetto background vocals. The song was universally panned; even Bono later said of this recording, “I didn’t just let myself down, or my parents, I let the whole school down.”

D. Adam Sandler sang a version of the song at a Hurricane Sandy Relief Concert, including new lyrics such as “the mayors ban on 32-ounce Mountain Dew-ya” and “Turnpike Exit 13 stinkin like poo-ya.”

E. A 7-foot-tall clown known as Puddle Pity Party sang the song. Director Gary Yost filmed a performance of this version, about which he said, “The soul and heart can come through despite any costume we wear.”

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Finally, The Election

Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump - Caricatures by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

No matter what happens in the election, the nation will have a first son-in-law who is Jewish. So the big question:

Is that good for the Jews
or bad for the Jews?

While we may not know the answer to that question for some time, what we do know is that it is good for the Jews (and for everyone) that the election season is finally over. But before we move on to other delights, enjoy this bonus double weekly quiz, one question about Donald Trump and one about Hillary Clinton. Today’s questions come from


A Quizbook of
Presidential Jewish Trivia Facts & Fun

What? You don’t already have
Not to worry–there’s still time, especially as you start feeling nostalgic for the good old days when everyone you ever heard of was running for president.

Click here for more information 

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And now for today’s questions.

Hillary Clinton - Caricature by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

When Hillary Clinton’s daughter Chelsea was preparing to marry Marc Mezvinsky, the couple met with Rabbi James Ponet, the head rabbi at Yale who performed the ceremony. The rabbi told them that they could use any cloth with meaning to the family for their chuppah (wedding canopy). Marc said “My bar mitzvah tallit, that could be used, but I don’t know where it is.” What did Chelsea say?

A“I still have my Ace of Base t-shirt from when they performed at the White House when I was in 9th grade. Would that be okay?”

BWhy don’t we use the shawl I wore on our first date?

CI know where it is.

DI’m sure my mother has a spare pantsuit we could use.

EI have a blue dress that would be nice.”

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Donald Trump - Caricature by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

In 2006, Donald Trump announced plans to build an office tower in Tel Aviv that would be the tallest building in Israel. The plan never came to fruition, but what was the building going to be called?

ATrump Tower Zion.

B. Beit Trump.

C. The Trump Tower of David.

D. Trump Tower Israel.

E. One more ostentatious, overpriced monument to a self-important New Yorker.

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