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Rabbinic Pastor/Cantor Lisa L. Levine

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The author singing in Cuba

The story of the Jews of Cuba is at once tragic and triumphant. Before the 1959 revolution, 15,000 Jews lived on the island, having immigrated there from all over the world to find their fortunes in tobacco, rum, textiles, and sugar cane. They built magnificent synagogues: Beit Shalom/The Patronato Jewish Community Center, the Sephardic Synagogue, and Beit Yaakov, the Orthodox synagogue that now houses a beautiful upstairs museum sanctuary. Most of the wealthiest Jews fled to the United States before the revolution and today, the island has roughly 1,000 Jewish souls.

When Fidel...

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Ugandan Jewish child studying Hebrew alphabet

Last summer, I was honored and humbled to meet Mugoya Shadrach Levi, a 29-year-old rabbinic student from Uganda, who was in the U.S. for three weeks to travel and study. Over dinner, Shadrach, as he is known, told my husband and me his story, which both shocked and captivated us.

Shadrach leads the Jewish Congregation of Namutumba, a community of 2,000 members that survives and thrives despite a years’-long famine in Uganda. When I asked him what he wanted for breakfast, he explained that he doesn’t usually eat breakfast – just a glass of tea – because the children had to be fed...

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Sunlight shining upon a footbridge in a forest

I first found my voice at a dying woman’s bedside during a unit of clinical pastoral education. I had been paged to the neurology ICU for a family struggling to say goodbye to their mother, who was in the final stages of brain cancer. When I asked her daughter to tell me about her mother, I learned that she loved music and had been the choir director and organist in their church for many years.

Instinctively, I asked if I might sing something to help soothe her mother’s spirit in this time of need. The first song that came to mind was “Balm in Gilead,” a gospel hymn I remembered...

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