I am hoping you have heard about the plight of my friend, Alan Gross. Alan is from the Washington, D.C., area and his situation has received a lot of coverage in our local news. If you have not heard, Alan went to Cuba to bring laptop computers and cell phones to the Jewish community on the island.
On his last trip, he was taken off a plane and thrown in a Cuban prison cell where he has sat since Dec. 3, 2009. He was not tried until March 2011, was found guilty of acts against the Cuban government and sentenced for 15 years. The State Department is negotiating for Alan’s release but after more than two years, their efforts have been unsuccessful.
Two things are being done to help my friend:
• A petition was created on the White House website to try to get some action by the White House to bring Alan home (wh.gov/DJO). The petition needs 25,000 signatures by Jan. 24, so that it will be reviewed by White House officials and receive a response.
• We were given a link to the Jewish Issues Outreach Team at the White House (whitehouse.gov/webform/contact-american-jewish-issues-outreach-team). Messages sent through that link will go directly to the appropriate staff at the White House so they can learn how many people are concerned about Alan and want him home. Those people can speak up on Alan’s behalf.
I hope your newspaper is willing to help this wonderful man by asking your readers to sign the petition and also send e-mails on Alan’s behalf. Alan and his family need this nightmare brought to an end.
URJ coverage lauded
Thank you for reporting and sharing with others in Pittsburgh who did not have the opportunity to attend the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial last month outside Washington, D.C.
Your coverage accurately summarized what I experienced as a participant: I studied with scholars, learned new approaches to connecting with our fellow congregants, heard about the URJ’s youth and other new initiatives, sang and prayed with over 5,000 Reform Jews from North America (representing more than 900 member congregations and their 1.5 million individual members) and shared Shabbat dinner in a room larger than several airplane hangars.
Among those in attendance were also members from liberal Congregations in Latin America, Europe, South Africa and Israel. It was awesome in sheer size! The Biennial was made even better with the opportunity to hear from President Barack Obama, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a cameo appearance of our beloved Theodore Bikel. Witnessing the reinstallation of Lynn Magid Lazar as the International President of Women of Reform Judaism and standing up for her when asked for members from her home congregation made Shabbat even more special. Your coverage gave a fair glimpse of what the URJ Biennial had to offer. Thank you.
(The author is a past president of Temple Sinai and new board member of the Union for Reform Judaism.)
We read with interest the cover story in last week's Chronicle, "Israeli dance troupe organizers hope to teach teens a step or two." We applaud the effort to engender enthusiasm for Israeli culture among local teens and wish the dance troupe founders much success.
We wanted to point out an error in the story and take this opportunity to share the correct information with Chronicle readers. The article mentions Pittsburgh's Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration this coming spring, but includes the wrong location and is missing critical information about changes in store for this year's event.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which sponsors the community celebration, is greatly expanding the event this year in honor of the Federation's Centennial.
Set for Thursday, April 26 at Schenley Plaza in Oakland, the event will, of course, commemorate the founding of the modern state of Israel with Israeli cultural programs, crafts and activities of all kinds. But the event will also be a celebration of all things Jewish, with activities highlighting Jewish tradition and culture, as well as a collaboration of many local Jewish organizations and synagogues.
Jewish organizations wishing to participate are invited to contact Teddi Jacobson, manager, Israel community events, at email@example.com or 412-992-5207.
Jan Levinson and
(The authors co-chair the Israel Community Celebration.)