Alan Gross wore a trim-fit gray suit, red tie and a perpetual smile as he took the stage tonight at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville at a welcome home reception in his honor sponsored by dozens of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. But while he celebrated being “home sweet home” with “my kehilla, my community, my tribe,” Gross revealed that his previous five years spent imprisoned in Cuba was the very opposite – “home sweet hell.”
To pass the time in captivity and keep his sanity, Gross fashioned jewelry out of bottle caps, holding up a blue bracelet made of intertwining bottle caps in the shape of a Havdalah candle.
Rabbi Jack Luxemburg, Beth Ami’s senior rabbi, joked that “it looks like Rosh Hashanah in here.” Addressing the crowd, he later turned serious to say that “in a way it is like Rosh Hashanah, turning a page in the Book of Life for our community and Judy. Let us not forget the invisible hands who contributed to bringing Alan home.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said it was special for him to look up at the State of the Union address and see sitting next to the first lady, Alan and Judy Gross. “What a journey, from five years in prison to the State of Union address with the first lady.”
He then gave a special thank you to Judy Gross who was “relentless. She was fighting everyday, telling the White House the clock is ticking here.”
He went on to praise Alan Gross as an exemplary model of “resilience and keeping the faith.”
As wrenching as Gross’s experience was, he evidently kept his sense of humor. Van Hollen told the crowd that Gross got a call from the President of the United States while on the plane home. The Congressman asked how the call went, and Gross said, “‘It was a great conversation, only the call interrupted my first corned beef sandwich in five years.'”