Just hours after setting foot on American soil for the first time after spending five years in a Cuban prison, a thankful Alan Gross spoke to the media. Speaking for about seven minutes, he went through the list of people who helped him and praised the President’s move to end what he called, “two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”
I have to say Chag Samayach [Hebrew for Happy Holiday] and happy holiday season to all of you. Today is the first day of Hanukkah. And I guess so far it’s the best Hanukkah that I’ll be celebrating for a long time. What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country. And thank you, President Obama, for everything that you have done today and leading up to today. I want to acknowledge the extraordinary and determined efforts of my wife Judy, 44 1/2 years we’ve been married. I know you’re not 44 1/2 anymore. And my lawyer and personal Moses, Scott Gilbert, and their efforts to restore my freedom. They have my endless gratitude, love and respect. The relentless and often intense efforts by Judy and Scott, the partners and associates and staff of Gilbert LLP law firm. That’s where we are right now. They made me take the jacket off. I didn’t want to take it off. But they said, you got to take it off.
Tim Reiser of Capitol Hill, Jill Zuckman of SKD Knickerbocker have been inconceivable, their efforts have been inconceivable. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont has been instrumental in shepherding the arrival of this day. I want to thank all of the members of Congress from all sides of the aisle, such as Senator Flake, representatives Chris Van Holland and Barbara Lee and numerous others who spoke up or visited me, subjected themselves to my ranting and helped me regain some of my weight. Even in Cuba, M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hand. To all of those who tried to visit me but were not — were unable to, thank you for trying. I’m at your service as soon as I get some new teeth.
And I hope they’ll be strong and sharp enough to make a difference. To the Washington Jewish community, Ron Halber in particular and his staff at Jewish Community Relations Council, the JCRC, all 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. It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten. Your prayers and your actions have been comforting, reassuring and sustaining.
And to my extended family, especially my sister Bonnie, my cousins and friends, Howard, Bruce, our Shabbat group, Nonie and Larry, and so many others who exemplify the true meaning of friendship, thank you.
I do understand that there are many others who actively participated in securing my freedom, of whom I’m only nominally aware at this juncture. I promise I will express a more direct and personal gratitude just as soon as I know who you are. But ultimately, ultimately, the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office. To President Obama and the NSC staff, thank you. In my last letter to President Obama, I wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity, I would not want to trade places with him, and I certainly wouldn’t want to trade places with him on this glorious day.
Five years of isolation, notwithstanding, I did not need daily briefings to be cognizant of what our undoubtedly incredible challenges facing our nation and the global community.
I also feel compelled to share with you my utmost respect for and fondness of the people of Cuba. In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected. To me Cubanos, or at least most of them, are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies. 5 1/2 decades of history show us such belligerence inhibits better judgment. Two wrongs never make a right. I truly hope we can now get beyond these mutual belligerent policies. I was very happy to hear what the President had to say today. It was particularly cool to be sitting next to the Secretary of State as he was hearing about his job description for the next couple of months. In all seriousness, this is a game-changer, which I fully support. In the meantime, I ask that you respect my wishes for complete and total privacy. A judicious lesson I learned from this experience is that freedom is not free. And as personified by Scott and our entire team, we must never forget the two pillars of Moses’ covenant, freedom and responsibility. I’m incredibly blessed finally to have the freedom to resume a positive and constructive life. But for now, I’ll close with a quote from one of Nelson DeMille’s characters. It’s good to be home. Thank you and I wish you all a happy holiday season. Thank you.