New Jewish Push To Free Alan Gross

As Diplomacy Falters, Wife Pleads for Release From Cuban Jail

Pushing for Freedom: Judy Gross pleading for more action to free her husband, Alan Gross, at the recent Jewish Federations of North America gathering. Advocates for Alan Gross are shifting to a more open campaign after quiet diplomacy failed.
courtesy of jfna
Pushing for Freedom: Judy Gross pleading for more action to free her husband, Alan Gross, at the recent Jewish Federations of North America gathering. Advocates for Alan Gross are shifting to a more open campaign after quiet diplomacy failed.

By Nathan Guttman

Published November 21, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

An emotional Judy Gross recently pleaded with thousands of Jewish community leaders to help free her husband from a prison in Cuba, marking a public shift in what has been, up to now, a strategy of quiet diplomacy on his behalf.

“Let the Cuban government know that the Jewish community wants Alan home,” Gross implored her audience at the November 8 closing session of the annual conference of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Her husband, Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, is serving a 15-year sentence after being accused of crimes against the Cuban state for seeking to bring banned Internet equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community.

courtesy of gross family

“Alan’s only intention was to help the small Jewish communities in Cuba,” she said, “nothing more.”

The Gross case has proven to be one of the more difficult diplomatic challenges facing Jewish leaders, who would like to help free the 61-year-old suburban Washington, D.C. resident. On the surface, it is a case of an American Jew imprisoned for seeking to aid Jews living under a communist government. But in contrast to the black-and-white approach American Jews took in trying to aid Soviet Jewry, Cuba experts and Jewish activists see the need for a highly nuanced strategy. Unlike Jews in the old Soviet Union, Cuba’s 2,000-strong Jewish community enjoys religious freedom and positive, if wary, relations with the ruling regime of Raul Castro. They are also free to emigrate to Israel, with which Cuba has unofficial but productive relations.

Until now, Gross’ family and friends chose not to focus on Gross’s Jewish identity, or on his work with Havana’s Jewish community. Since his detention by Cuban authorities nearly two years ago, his supporters have feared such an emphasis would hurt the cause and could cause more trouble for the Cuban Jewish community.

The strategy changed when they realized they weren’t getting closer to winning Gross’s freedom.

“The [American] Jewish community is getting more involved because we haven’t seen movement on this issue,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “It is fair to say the Jewish community has gone beyond the tipping point on whether to get involved or not.”

Weighing in on behalf of Gross also required the Jewish community to walk a political and diplomatic tightrope.

Gross was sent to Cuba under a contract with USAID as part of a program funded under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. The controversial statute strengthens sanctions against Cuba and outlines measures meant to undermine the country’s communist regime.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.