The first time I tasted a mojito, and I mean really tasted a mojito, I was in Havana with my family, and my dad had whisked me away to a local hotspot after a long, sweaty day of delivering humanitarian aid to those in need. That night was particularly warm, and the cool drink refreshed me from the trials of the day. I remember the salsa music playing in the air and watching through the open windows as the locals danced til their hearts content. This was the taste of Cuba I had heard so much about from my mother’s stories.
These days, my volunteer work includes a more local approach with my participation in the Los Angeles Jewish community as the leader of the young adult group at my synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. When our new rabbi approached me about an idea for a Cuban-themed Shabbat dinner, I knew exactly which elements would help bring authenticity to the table. Rum, music, and dancing, of course!
The Jewish community in Cuba is very similar to the Jewish communities in the rest of the world. Comprised of a very warm, welcoming group of people, one of the highlights of my family’s frequent trips is visiting both the communities in Havana as well as in Santiago. Several years ago, while visiting Santiago, I had the privilege of teaching Israeli dancing to the community there. This is a culture that celebrates music and dance in a way that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Music is in their soul, and movement and dance is more than just an artistic expression. It’s a way of life!
I happen to love when my two cultures intersect, as they often do, and on May 15th, I get triple the joy, as some of my favorite Jewish organizations come together for an authentic taste of Jewish Cuba. First, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, where my husband and I have found a spiritual home, nurtured deep friendships, and lead programming geared towards inspiring fellow young adults. I can’t think of a better location for such a fun and engaging evening than this. Second, B’nai B’rith Young Leadership Network – Los Angeles, known internationally for promoting Jewish values on a global scale, has invited an expert on all things Jewish Cuba. And third, Bechol Lashon, which promotes and supports diversity within Judaism, and whose incredible staff was the first to reach out to me personally, as a Cuban-American Jew, from a place of inclusion, rather than as the “other.” With these three organizations involved, there is no doubt in my mind that this will be a memorable event.Just in case you can’t make it to L.A. for the event, and seek something to whet your Cuban-inspired whistle, I offer my favorite recipe for the classic Cuban drink: Mojitos. The fresh aroma of the muddled mint, combined with the effervescence and sweetness of the sugar-infused soda, is exactly the crowd-pleasing liquid courage needed to get all your friends on the dance floor.
Traditional Cuban Mojito
6-10 mint leaves
2 tsp superfine white sugar
½ a fresh lime
1 ½ oz white rum
2 drops of bitters (*Optional)
In a highball glass, add the mint and sugar, and muddle together until the mint leaves are slightly bruised. Squeeze the lime juice into the glass, and cover with ice. Pour the rum over the ice, and top off with club soda until the liquid nearly reaches the rim of the glass. Stir until well-combined, and top with bitters (*optional). Serve immediately.