WASHINGTON – There was a chair empty at the Gross family’s Thanksgiving dinner
last week. It was also empty on Passover, and on last Thanksgiving too. This
chair was not, however, awaiting the arrival of the Prophet Elijah or a tardy
guest. The chair belongs to Alan Gross, a 62-year-old husband, father and son,
who has been condemned to a Cuban jail cell until he is 77 years old. His crime?
Or plotting insurgency, if you ask the
Gross’s wife Judy spoke with The Jerusalem Post
on Monday days
before the two-year anniversary of Alan’s imprisonment.
Judy Gross is
understated, hesitant to express emotion or admit to hardship. She maintains a
near-unbearable daily regimen, working her “day job” and then coming home to
devote hours in the evening to the campaign to free her husband. Down time, she
says, is the most difficult to bear, when she feels that she is
Judy Gross is in the midst of a campaign to raise public awareness
in the hopes that something, somewhere, might give. The Jewish community has
rallied around her, holding vigils and Alan Gross solidarity
“Our goal is to make him a household name so that people know
what is going on, so that there will be more outrage,” Judy
Earlier in November, Judy flew to Cuba to visit her husband. En
route, she met with a representative of the Cuban Jewish community.
was one of those very cordial meetings,” Gross recalls. “We talked about the
community itself – she wanted to show me the community, its synagogue, and its
community facilities.” Absent from Gross’s recollection, however, was any help
in securing Alan’s release.
When she met with her husband, Alan Gross was
worse off than ever before. He has become immobilized by severe
His wife brought him medicine from his American doctor, but
said that Gross had no access to arthritis medication and that he worried about
the quality of the medical care that he was receiving.
problem, however, is not physical.
“In the last two to three months, Alan
has gone from being gregarious and outgoing to depressed, angry and very
hopeless,” Judy recalls. “We had a lot of hope a few months ago and it kept his
Right now I don’t have anything to tell him that can make him
In October, a prisoner swap deal reportedly fell
through, dashing hopes that Gross could be exchanged for Cubans sentenced in
The Gross’s weekly phone calls have become more and more
“The last conversation that we had this past Friday was
probably the worst I heard him sound,” says Judy. “He’s losing hope very quickly
and I can’t give him anything to hope for.”
One source of disappointment
is the White House. Judy complains that while both Congress and the State
Department – especially the State Department – have worked to support Gross, the
White House has remained silent.
“We had one meeting with the National
Security Council that we had requested for months, but it was just cordial
Alan’s mother wrote a personal letter to [US President Barack]
Obama, and she didn’t even receive a form letter back.”
particularly incensed the family since Alan Gross had taken five weeks off from
his job in order to work on Obama’s presidential campaign.
In the mean
time, the Gross family is picking at straws.
“We want to see what kind of
a reaction we receive from the United States and Cuba and we’ll plan from
there,” Judy responds when asked about her strategy to get Alan out. “We’re
trying to raise the issue in other countries that do have diplomatic relations
When you can’t talk to somebody you can’t solve the
While he waits, the Cuban government has decided to allow Alan
Gross a visitor a week. Judy says that the chief of mission of the US Interests
Section in Havana visits him monthly, but requests that any travelers to Cuba
try to pay him a visit. At the least, she says, people can drop off a package at
the US section.
Reluctant to divulge personal details, Judy admits that
until freedom comes, her husband would appreciate books, news magazines and
Quietly, unwilling to talk about her own emotions, Judy
too is waiting.
“Life has to go on. I have a family that I’m trying to be
happy for and I try not to let my whole life be affected. On Thanksgiving, we
have an empty chair in his honor, just as we do at Passover, but we trudge on –
its difficult, but we trudge on.”