Dr. Jose Miller, a physician who served as president of Cuba’s Jewish community for two decades and shepherded a revival in the country’s Jewish life, died Feb. 27 in Havana after a brief illness. He was 80.
Dr. Miller’s years of leadership coincided with the government’s decision in the early 1990s to change its character from atheistic to secular, eliminating the persecution of people who participated in religious activities and allowing the open practice of Judaism and other faiths.
Since then the number of Cuban Jews attending worship services and participating in cultural activities has increased.
Dr. Miller, one of the few remaining Jews who had received a strong Jewish education as a youth, played a major role in the recent renaissance.
"He had a very strong Jewish heart, a Jewish spirit," said William Recant, assistant executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which supports Jewish life in Cuba and several formerly communist countries. "He was instrumental in serving as a link between the Cuban government and the Jewish community. He saw the revival of Cuban Jewry, and oversaw the reconstruction of the Patronato," Havana’s central Jewish community center and synagogue.
Cuba has an estimated Jewish population of 1,000 to 1,500, according to most observers.
Dr. Miller, born to an immigrant Lithuanian family, grew up in the interior of Cuba as one of the few Jews in his small town. He worked as a plastic surgeon, serving for 22 years in Havana’s largest hospital until retiring to head the Jewish community.
"Dr. Miller was cantankerous, tough, stubborn, loving, but above all cared deeply for his community, for his synagogue and for the renewal of Jewish life," Recant said.