(JTA) — The leaders of American Jewish groups appealed to Cuba’s president to release a Jewish U.S. citizen from prison and reunite him with his family.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, representing 51 Jewish groups in the United States sent a letter over the weekend to President Raul Castro asking him to release U.S. government contractor Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds.
Gross, whom the State Department says was in Cuba to assist Cuban Jews, will go on trial in Cuba next month on charges of acts against the state.
The letter to Castro, signed by Conference of Presidents Chairman Alan Solow and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, focused on Gross’ commitment to the Jewish community and the people of Cuba.
"Mr. Gross has long been an active and committed member of the Jewish community in the United States," the letter said. "He has lived his life following the Jewish teachings of tikkun olam ("repairing the world"), as demonstrated by the multiple humanitarian projects he has developed around the world — from the Middle East to Latin America. His work has touched and improved the lives of thousands of people. When Mr. Gross was arrested he believed he was advancing his humanitarian work in Cuba."
The letter also requests that Castro consider Gross’ poor health and family circumstances. Gross has lost 90 pounds and is suffering from serious physical ailments, as well as from extreme mental stress and anguish because of his daughter’s bout with cancer, the letter explains.
Gross was charged in Cuba on Feb. 4 with "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state," a charge that carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
U.S. officials will attend the trial, which likely will be in front of a panel of judges, Reuters reported. The trial is expected to last a couple of days.
Cuban authorities detained Gross in late 2009 on his way out of the country, saying he was a spy. Gross’ family and State Department officials say he was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.
Gross reportedly is being held in a military hospital. Last week, when the trial date was announced, Gross’ wife, Judy, pleaded with the Cuban government to release her husband on humanitarian grounds. Gross’ daughter, 26, has breast cancer, and his mother has been diagnosed with lung cancer.