ABC News reported that the United States has secured the release of Jewish-American businessman Alan Gross as part of a prisoner swap and wider effort to improve bilateral relations with Cuba.
Gross was leaving Cuba when he was arrested in December 2009 for setting up Internet access for the Jewish community there as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He recently marked the completion of his fifth year in a Cuban prison.
Gross 65, of Potomac, Md., reportedly is in ill health and has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration, and has suffered from painful arthritis.
Members of Congregation Agudath Israel in West Caldwell, who recently returned from an eight-day trip to Cuba under the auspices of the synagogue's World Jewry Committee, were excited by the news.
“Though we can't take credit for Alan Gross' release, it is certainly a Chanukah gift for all of us and adds glow to our Chanukah freedom lights,” said Rabbi Richard Hammerman, chairman of the World Jewry Committee. “Congregation Agudath Israel's Cuban Mission feels great satisfaction in knowing that we participated in reciting a bracha for his release when we left a meeting with the unofficial head of the Jewish community in Cuba, Adela Dworin, at the Patronato Masorti synagogue center in Havana. Together with her the CAI Cuba Mission recited the blessing: ‘Baruch ata adonai… Matir Asurim,’ thanking God for releasing those imprisoned.”
The Orthodox Union, which rallied and lobbied in support of Gross’s release, also welcomed the news. “Our joy upon receiving the news of his freedom is enhanced as we note that this week synagogues around the nation and around the world read the Torah portion, Miketz, that recounts the release of Joseph from his own unjust imprisonment in ancient Egypt,” the O.U. said in a statement. “We are certain this will prove to be a most joyous Chanukah for Alan Gross and his family.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) led a congressional effort to free Gross, who maintained he was in Cuba to assist its 1,500-member Jewish community in communicating with other Jews via the Internet.