‘Rabbi to the Diplomats’ Brings Megillah to Alan Gross
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president and founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and Senior Rabbi at the Park East Synagogue in New York, led a delegation to Havana that made an interfaith humanitarian appeal to high Cuban government officials for the release of Alan Gross, a Jewish contractor accused of espionage, who is serving a fifteen year sentence.
Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison last March for ‘crimes against the Cuban state.’ He was arrested in December 2009 bringing communications equipment onto the island while on a USAID-funded democracy building program.
Cuba’s Supreme Court upheld Gross’ sentence in August, and U.S. efforts turned to winning his release on humanitarian grounds. Both his elderly mother and adult daughter are battling cancer and his family has suffered financial hardship since his arrest, according to his wife, Judy Gross.
Rabbi Schneier’s request to meet with Gross on the eve of Purim was granted by Cuban authorities. He visited with Gross at a Military hospital for one and a half hours and presented him with a tallit (prayer shawl), tefillin (phylacteries), the biblical Book of Esther, and hamantaschen (holiday pastries). “I found a man of faith, concerned about his family, hopeful and reassured that he has not been abandoned. Purim is a festival of miracles, and we pray that a miracle will allow us to see a resolution of the pain and suffering of all involved,” Rabbi Arthur Schneier said.
The delegation also visited El Patronato, the Synagogue and Jewish Community Center in Havana, and observed the extensive preparations for the Purim festivities by this Jewish community.