Alan Gross pictured with his wife Judy while addressing a news conference in Washington after his release from Cuba,December 17, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
American aid worker Alan Gross, who was released after five years in captivity in Cuba yesterday, thanked US President Barack Obama and the American Jewish community for their efforts in securing his release, in a press conference held only hours after he stepped back onto US soil.
“Hag same’ah,” he said.
“What a blessing to be a citizen of the United States of America. Thank you, President Obama, for everything you have done today.”
Gross, 65, who was arrested in 2009 while distributing satellite phones and other banned communication technologies to members of Cuba’s small Jewish community as a contractor for USAID, was accused of working as an American intelligence agent.
In a letter to Obama last year, Gross despaired of returning home, stating that he feared that the United States government had abandoned him. He seemed near the end of his rope in August, when said he could no longer take life in prison and reportedly said good-bye to his family.
His release came as part of a reset in relations between Washington and Havana, which have not had diplomatic relations since the height of the Cold War.
Gross credited the advocacy by his wife of 44 years, Judy Gross, and his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, for getting him out of prison. He also thanked the Jewish community.
“To the Washington Jewish community, Ron Halber in particular and his staff at the Jewish Community Relations Council, all of the executive directors, staff and volunteers of participating JCRCs, federations, synagogues, schools, and other Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations nationwide, God bless you and thank you,” Gross said. “It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten. Your prayers and actions have been comforting, reassuring, and sustaining.”
Immediately after Gross’s release, Steve Rackitt, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, told The Jerusalem Post: “We are grateful to celebrate this Hanukka ‘miracle’ with Alan’s wife, Judy, his daughters and the entire Washington Jewish community.
Speaking to the Post by phone on Thursday, Halber said that the Jewish community had resolved from early on not to let the issue fade out of the news, knowing that “unless we can keep this issue alive and in the news, we will never get him out of there.”
Halber said that the JCRC had decided on a twopronged strategy of creating “a constituency of people who really cared, so it could not disappear from the list of issues that Washington had to deal with,” and of supporting Gross’s family.
“We kept Alan’s morale up while he was in prison, letting him know we were agitating for his release,” Halber said. “There was no way morally or ethically we could leave a member of the Jewish community behind. It was that simple.”
In remarks celebrating Hanukka at the White House Wednesday, Obama said that he had been “told that in the Jewish tradition, one of the great mitzvahs is pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives).
“My Hebrew is not perfect, but I get points for trying. But it describes the redemption, the freeing, of captives. And that’s what we’re celebrating today, because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.”JTA contributed to this report.