Judy Gross, initially quiet but now vocal about her husband’s plight in Cuba, tells JointMedia News Service that Alan yearns for “outside contact.”
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A typical day in the life of Alan Gross entails walking around his room a couple thousand times, push-ups and sit-ups, and reading. He doesn’t have access to kosher food, and if he sees something moving on his plate he pushes it away.
That’s the description provided to JointMedia News Service by his wife, Judy, who speaks to Alan once a week. Judy promoted Dec. 1 as “Alan Gross Day,” marking the two-year anniversary of the American contractor’s Dec. 3, 2009 imprisonment in Cuba for alleged “Acts against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State” after he established Internet access for the local Jewish community.
Initially quiet about Alan’s plight, Judy and his other advocates have been particularly vocal of late. Judy spoke on the subject at a vigil on Monday outside the Cuban Interests Section of Washington, DC, following her Nov. 8 address at the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in Denver. In late September, JFNA and other Jewish groups sponsored a vigil for Gross outside the Cuban Mission to the UN in New York, while the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington held a simultaneous event in the nation’s capitol.
After Judy at first avoided public discussion on Alan’s 15-year prison sentence out of “respect for the Cuban government,” Jewish groups “pretty much came to us” to start working together for his release, she said in telephone interview on Monday.
“It’s two years now, so we have to start making Alan a household name,” she told JointMedia News Service. “I think we have to keep his name alive with anything.”
Two household names when it comes to Jewish prisoners are the recently freed Hamas captive Gilad Shalit and U.S. prisoner Jonathan Pollard, who on Nov. 21 entered the 27th year of a life sentence after being convicted of spying for Israel without intent to harm America. Judy said she thinks of Alan’s case independently of any others, but admitted “Sure, I’m jealous,” when asked about Shalit.
The absence of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and communist Cuba makes matters difficult when it comes to negotiating Alan’s release, but Judy said she would at least like to see “the two countries sit down and just talk first.” After all, Israel and Hamas agreed on Shalit—and they aren’t exactly friendly neighbors.
“You have to start somewhere,” Judy said.
Alan, a 62-year-old Potomac, Md., resident with two daughters, was a social worker and international development professional. He saw the need to give Cuba’s Jews Internet access because they live in three different spread-out communities on the island—making it difficult for them to communicate with each other, let alone Jews in other countries.
“They’re so isolated in Cuba and they’re so anxious to connect with their fellow Jews around the world,” Judy said.
While Alan and Judy discuss many things during their weekly phone conversations, they don’t speak about the current state of Cuba’s Jewish community because Cuban law enforcement officials listen in.
“Alan in no way wants to put [Cuba’s Jews] in danger,” Judy said.
During Judy’s most recent conversation with Alan, he sounded more hopeless and depressed than ever because “he’s still there after two years, and hasn’t gotten any kind of good news,” she said. All Alan reads is Cuban news, which is largely hostile to America. He is “living in a vacuum,” Judy said.
At the moment, Judy said what Alan needs is to be visited by the various Jewish groups who go on missions to Cuba. He is allowed one visit per week, Judy said.
“He really, really wants the outside contact,” Judy said.
Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.