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Watch: Cuba's shrunken Jewish population works to restore historic cemetery

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Watch: Cuba's shrunken Jewish population works to restore historic cemetery
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Associated Press
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Volunteers from Cuba's Jewish community are busily restoring dozens of historic gravesites in one of only two Jewish cemeteries on the island.

Founded in 1911, the cemetery – which contains more than 1,600 graves – has fallen into disrepair, with collapsed headstones, faded lettering and weeds growing between tombs.

After being unable to raise the necessary funds to maintain the cemeteries, the small neighbourhood of Guanabacoa took it upon themselves to make repairs.

Cuba was once home to a thriving Jewish community. Now, however, their population has been reduced to just 1,500 people.

After Cuba's revolution in 1959, many Jewish families left the island behind, and on it their dead. Remains can be exhumed from their site of burial according to Jewish custom, but only if they are being relocated to Israel.

Many of the Jews who remained after the revolution, however, ceased to practise their religion, choosing to embrace Cuban secularism under Castro.

The cemetery in Havana is steeped in Jewish history. The land was bought by Cuba's first Hebrew society in 1906, and inaugurated later by Jews and their descendants from Europe. Many of these people were fleeing persecution between the World Wars in their countries of origin.

A large monument paying tribute to the victim's of the Holocaust is also present at the cemetery. A constant reminder of history's atrocities – several bars of soap made from human fat in the Nazi concentration camps – is buried nearby.