Basalt woman overjoyed by release of cousin Alan Gross
The Aspen Times
A captive’s email from Cuba
Basalt resident Shelly Gross, whose cousin Alan Gross had been a prisoner of the Cuban government since he was detained Dec. 3, 2009, in Havana, routinely exchanged emails with the captive. On Dec. 3, exactly five years after he was detained, Alan Gross wrote the following email to his relative.
I actually just read an article about gluten-free diets and, although I am not convinced that I have such an intolerance, can’t help but to feel I would benefit from at least cutting back. Carbs are the mainstay of Cuban diets. A workout regimen is on the top of my list when I return. I haven’t been working out for a few month because of my hips and I have gained a few pounds recently. I like the sound of W&W (workout and wine), but will stay away from cheese.
I always used to look forward to Thanksgiving — lot’s of family & friends, lot’s of cooking (kind of like a larger Shabbat). And I loved to carve so that my day after turkey soup would be hassle-free.
Today marks 1,826 days as a hostage. Let’s hope there won’t be too many more.
Their fathers were first cousins, which made Shelly Gross and Alan Gross related to each other as well. It wasn’t until after Alan Gross was detained by the Cuban government, however, that the two became close.
Shelly Gross, a Basalt resident, knew Alan Gross’ parents much better. But after Alan Gross was incarcerated, Shelly began to reach out to him, first by sending letters to Gross’ wife, Judy, then by email.
While prison officials would screen Shelly Gross’ correspondence, she still managed to get through to her cousin electronically. He had no access to Facebook, Google or other common Internet features. But he did have email, Shelly Gross said.
“What gave him hope was my father was one of seven children who survived the Holocaust,” she said Wednesday. “That my father survived gave him hope.”
The Jewish observance Hanukkah began at sundown Tuesday, but the holiday known as the Festival of Lights took on an even brighter tenor Wednesday with the release of Alan Gross, 65, from Cuban custody.
His newfound liberty also came on an historic day in which the U.S. and Cuba announced an accord that calls for the end of their Cold War relationship.
Gross, a government worker for the U.S. Agency for international development, had been in Cuba to set up Internet access for the communist country’s Jewish community. Cuba, however, sentenced him to 15 years in prison because it considered his work an effort to undermine its government.
“I’m relieved and happy for the family that they get to be reunited,” said Rabbi David Segal, of the Aspen Jewish Congregation. “I’m happy for Shelly, our community member here. It’s just frustrating that someone who went on a humanitarian trip was treated this way.”
After Segal and his wife, Cantor Rollin Simmons, joined the Aspen Jewish Congregation nearly four years ago, the rabbi mentioned the name of Alan Gross at the services as part of the “Mi Shebeirach,” a weekly prayer that identifies people in need of healing.
“Shelly asked us to include him,” Segal said.
Shelly Gross said her cousin told her it was “heartwarming” that his name was mentioned weekly at the Aspen Jewish Congregation’s service.
She received her first correspondence from him in February 2012, when he thanked her for reaching out.
“I am at least as sorry as you are that I’m not home,” she quoted his letter as saying. “It means so much to me knowing that I am remembered.”
Rabbis across the country wouldn’t forget Gross, and Segal joined those who would circulate letters urging President Obama to release Gross.
“I signed two or three over the last four years,” he said. “They get hundreds of signatories, and I don’t know what impact they had.”
But at the very least, Segal said, the letters kept the issue in the minds of Washington leaders.
Shelly Gross said her correspondence with her cousin led him to express interest in visiting the Roaring Fork Valley. Gardening is one of his interests, and Shelly Gross would email him about the challenges that come with it in the Rocky Mountains.
Gross said her cousin also managed to maintain a sense of humor throughout the ordeal. He wrote, in not-so flattering terms, of the food he ate.
In November, his wife, Judy, told CBS Miami that she was getting more worried. “He says he is going to do something drastic. I worry about that, because that’s how down he is right now,” she said.
But earlier this month, in the last email that Shelly Gross received from him, he discussed cutting back on glutens. Alan Gross, whom The Associated Press reported had lost 100 pounds, also noted that he recently had gained some weight.
“I like the sound of W&W (workout and wine), but will stay away from cheese,” he wrote Dec. 3.
Gross’ release prison from will change a routine that Shelly Gross had instilled since his incarceration. It’s for the better, however.
“Every morning I would have my coffee in bed, open my iPad, check my email, check my Facebook and Google ‘Alan Gross’ to see if anything happened in the last 24 hours,” she said. “But before I had a chance to do it [Wednesday], I got a call from one of my cousins who said, ‘Alan is free.’”
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