Did Jewish community bring Alan home?
What an extraordinary couple of weeks it has been! It began with the news of Alan Gross’ release on December 17 after five long years in a Cuban prison, acknowledgement by the President that same afternoon at the White House Hanukkah party of the important role of his family and the Jewish community, “who never stopped working to bring him home,” and culminating with Alan and Judy Gross’ surprise visit to the offices of the JCRC and The Federation on Monday, December 22 to thank everyone for their efforts.
On the day of his release, Alan himself said, “To the Washington Jewish community, Ron Halber in particular and his staff at the Jewish Community Relations Council, all of the executive directors, staff and volunteers of participating JCRCs, federations, synagogues, schools, and other Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations nationwide, God bless you and thank you.”
There were expressions of joy and appreciation from throughout the world for the role of the Jewish community in advocating for Alan’s release.
Except in the Washington Jewish Week editorial of December 24.
According the the WJW, we should, “make no mistake about it: The Jewish community did not ‘bring Alan home.'”
It is clear that Alan’s release was obtained through an extraordinarily complex set of negotiations involving the White House, the State Department, members of Congress, the Canadian government, the Vatican and the Cuban government. And for the past 5 years, as your editorial acknowledges, “The Jewish community, particularly the JCRC, deserves significant credit for keeping Gross’ story alive through vigils, visits and other public demonstration of support.”
I never heard anyone in the Jewish community claim to have “brought Alan home.” Why the disappointing slap at the Jewish community, in effect diminishing the work of thousands of Jews who marched, signed petitions, wrote to the President and members of Congress? Why, in the pages of Washington’s Jewish newspaper, send the unintended, but unfortunate, message that Jewish community advocacy doesn’t matter?
STEVEN A. RAKITT
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Maryland is fortunate to have two staunch supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship representing them in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Ben Cardin’s support is heartfelt and reflected in his outspoken support for Israel’s efforts to be free from terrorist attacks from Gaza and the threat of destruction by Iran.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s efforts on behalf of Israel’s security during this last session of Congress deserve special note. As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Mikulski took the lead in making sure that Israel’s safety and security was a priority. In particular, she led the effort this summer during the conflict with Hamas to provide an additional $225 million in funding to replenish Iron Dome stockpiles. Then in December, Sen. Mikulski assured continued strengthening of this life-saving system by including $351 million for Iron Dome in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015, doubling the administration’s fiscal year budget request for the program.
“We believe that our allies have the right to self-defense”, Sen. Mikulski said. “It’s absolutely crucial that Israel has the opportunity to defend itself while others are working on cease-fires or political solutions. Those are excellent, diplomatic or humanitarian goals, but right now we have to make sure that Israel can defend itself. As a treasured ally, it’s important that we enable Israel to guard themselves against Hamas.”
Sen. Mikulski has long been a stalwart voice for strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. She continues to take the lead in maintaining vital support for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and other key support and partnerships with Israel.
For these extraordinary efforts as chair of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Mikulski deserves our special thanks and appreciation.
HILARY SMITH KAPNER
DR. ROBERT STILLMAN
Bringing Alan Gross home
As a member of Alan and Judy Gross’s legal team, I have followed Washington Jewish Week’s articles on Alan’s five-year imprisonment in Cuba and return home with great interest and appreciation. I must take issue, however, with your characterization of the impact of the Jewish community’s efforts on behalf of Alan and Judy as “pretty modest” (“Welcome home, Alan Gross,” Editorial, WJW, Dec. 25). On the contrary, those efforts were extensive and material to securing Alan’s freedom.
As WJW reported, President Obama said that “While I have been prepared to take additional steps [regarding Cuba] for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way – the wrongful imprisonment . . . [of] Alan Gross.” The Jewish community was the largest and most consistently vocal and active constituency to highlight and maintain awareness of Alan’s imprisonment and condition.
Through extensive media efforts, vigils, private meetings with key decision makers in the U.S. government and otherwise, the Jewish community kept Alan’s cause in the public eye, before members of Congress and the Obama administration. They worked tirelessly and hand-in-hand with us, both publicly and behind the scenes, to effectuate this outcome.
Their efforts were spearheaded by, among others, Ron Halber of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Bruce Pascal of B’nai B’rith International, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America.
It is no coincidence that one of the few people Alan thanked by name in his remarks following his return was Ron Halber. Ron was in the very small group of individuals invited to be present at Andrews Air Force Base when Alan’s plane touched down. The fact that news of Alan’s release was not disseminated more broadly was due to the confidentiality requirements of this long-term and very sensitive negotiation effort.
It is a grave injustice to minimize the impact of the multiyear efforts of the Jewish community and its leaders to bring Alan home, particularly when doing so is the product of apparently entirely uninformed and incorrect speculation. It is contrary to what I know actually happened. And it is a disservice to your readers.
In your Dec. 11 editorial titled “It Cannot Go On Like This” are comments about the increasing anti-Semitism in France and the feeling that it cannot go on like this. I am probably a pessimist and believe that it will not stop. After thousands of years, we Jews have mainly taken the “high road,” providing the world with many Noble laureates in science, medicine, literature, etc., hopefully healing some of the world’s major problems.
But it has not helped. I keep wondering why this is happening and what we can do about it, and greater minds than I have never come up with an answer. Our universities are full of students who march and chant against Israel and Jews and try to prevent Israeli professors from lecturing. Even looking back over many hundreds of years, those in power will always accept help from a Jew but the hatred is still there. Even though I feel that there is no solution, we have to keep trying and hopefully always stay on the “high road.”
Was it ‘censorship’?
The Washington DC Jewish Community Center states that Ari Roth has been fired for multiple acts of insubordination (“Why Ari Roth was fired,” WJW, Jan. 1). This claim is supported by multiple officials of DCJCC and by officials of the Jewish Federation of Washington.
At the same time multiple arts figures, including Theodore Bikel condemn the firing and brand it “censorship.”
Even if Roth’s political stands played a role in the decision to fire him, it should be remembered that he was being paid by the Jewish community and was not entitled to besmirch the name of that community with their own money.
It is one thing to expect the Metropolitan Opera, which is funded by opera lovers of all political stripes, to present the multiple points of view that can be found in The Death of Klinghoffer.
It is quite another, to expect the Jewish community to fund projects that present some of the views that we have seen at Theater J.
Thanks, Ari Roth
We would like to express our appreciation to director Ari Roth, Theater J, and the Washington DC Jewish Community Center for producing wonderful, high quality theater for the past 18 years (“Why Ari Roth was fired,” WJW, Jan. 1).
Some Theater J productions, including The Admission and Return to Haifa, have explored the complexity of relationships between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.
This work has been important for the Washington Jewish community in stimulating our thinking, deepening our sensitivity to the concerns of people on all sides of the conflict, and promoting discussion.
We are disappointed with Roth’s dismissal by the DCJCC. But we hope that its tradition of vigorous, honest, and uninhibited speech will continue. Without it, we will lose an important window on our world.
We are gratified that Ari will continue his work at the planned Mosaic Theater, and we are hopeful that Theater J will sustain its engagement with issues vital to our community.
DARLENE A. BASCH
Appeal to your base
I believe that the first rule in business is to understand what value you bring to your customers. I have subscribed to Washington Jewish Week for a number of years to read news about the local, national and global Jewish communities. During the past few months, you have chosen to run front-page articles on topics that are not directly relevant to the Jewish community and are covered indepth in other news journals that many of us read on a regular basis.
I am not interested, for example, in reading about marijuana legalization or the increasing use of drones in WJW when I can read multiple in-depth articles on these topics in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Please “stick to your knitting” and focus on news that is more directly related to the Jewish experience.
Keep the big tent open
The more in-depth writing and wider coverage of events in the Jewish world, under the direction of Mr. Melada, and the fuller pages of important information, have changed WJW for the better.
HARRIET TUDOR PLATT
‘Reckoning’ with author’s bias
Regarding “The Reckoning,” reviewed by Alan Elsner (WJW, Dec. 30), about the assassination of Hebrew freedom fighter Avraham Stern, one can learn from this book, but it must be said that the author, Patrick Bishop, has respect for the killer, Morton, and little but contempt for Stern.
George Washington University