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December 17, 2014 / 25 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

Alan Gross Revelations Could Hamper Campaign For His Release

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

WASHINGTON – For the Jews of Cuba, it was the ultimate Internet connection. The high-tech equipment that U.S. contractor Alan Gross brought with him to Cuba in 2009 to help connect local Jews to the Internet reportedly included a SIM card that makes it almost impossible to track satellite signals and is generally unavailable to civilians, even in the United States.

That was one of the revelations in an Associated Press report earlier this month that has exacerbated concerns Cuba will hang tough on its stated determination not to release Gross, a 62-year-old Maryland Jewish man who was in Cuba to do work for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for crimes described as “acts against the integrity of the state.”

Yet the AP report, apparently based on mission reports by Gross, helps reinforce the claim that Gross, his family, his employer and the State Department have made all along – that Gross’s mission was straightforward and not at all nefarious: He wanted to hook up Cuba’s Jews with their brethren worldwide.

The AP article “doesn’t change what we’re doing,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We never argued the matters that were raised” regarding Gross’ activities, he said.

According to the AP story, Gross understood the dangers he faced. That is evident both in his reports – he called his enterprise “risky business in no uncertain terms” in one memo – and his actions. He recruited Jewish tourists to help bring in the devices, and the most damaging evidence, according to AP, was the sophisticated SIM card he has in his possession.

Yet the story also makes clear that Gross, who was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, hardly fits the profile of a spy, which is how Cuban President Raul Castro described him.

“Alan Gross was working as a contractor for the U.S. government to promote democracy in Cuba,” said William Daroff, the Washington director for Jewish Federations of North America.

“He was convicted by a court in a country that does not respect the rule of law. His now over two years in a Cuban prison is unjust and we demand the Cuban government release him and that the American government use all of its influence to bring him home.”

The Jewish Federations and the local Jewish Community Relations Council in Washington have taken the lead in pushing publicly for Gross’s release, including petitions and vigils outside the offices of Cuban representatives.

“It hasn’t had any impact at all, if anything it’s only strengthened peoples’ resolve,” Ronald Halber, the director of the Washington JCRC said, of the AP story. The JCRC is set to launch on Wednesday a petition at FreeAlanGrossNow.com urging Pope Benedict XVI to make the case for Gross’s release when he visits Cuba next month.

Gross is said to be ill, having lost 100 pounds of the 250 pounds he weighed before his arrest. His daughter and mother have suffered bouts with cancer during his incarceration.

Those close to the case say privately that the AP’s revelations would not be news to the Cuban authorities. However, they are concerned that making them public will inhibit any Cuban willingness to release Gross.

The AP story describes Gross’ mission as setting up hundreds of Cubans – particularly the island’s 1,500 Jews – with WiFi hotspots for unrestricted Internet access as part of the democracy promotion by USAID, a State Department program. The story depicts Gross’s interactions as primarily with Cuba’s Jews.

“He did nothing wrong other than to connect peaceful non-dissident Jewish communities to the Internet,” said Steven O’Connor, the spokesman for Development Alternatives Inc., the USAID contractor that hired Gross.

Gross’s wife, Judy, addressed the AP story’s claims for the first time on Sunday in a breakfast with congregants at Congregation Chizuk Amuno in Baltimore.

“To suggest that Alan had any ulterior motive other than to help Cuba’s small Jewish community improve its access to information through the Internet and Intranet is categorically false,” she said in prepared remarks shared exclusively with JTA.

“Unfortunately, in countries like Cuba, the free flow of information is forbidden, and therefore it should come as no surprise that Alan had to be careful and discreet while he was in Cuba.”

She added, “That members of the media and the blogosphere continue to debate and analyze Alan’s work – a discussion in which the participants openly speculate as to his motives and his actions, despite having never met the man or even spoken with him – while he rots in a Cuban prison without the opportunity to freely and openly respond, is deplorable.”

Judy Gross described her husband’s mission as setting up unfettered Internet access to communicate with Jews outside Cuba and an Intranet so the communities – some in remote areas – could communicate with one another, “allowing them to share things like recipes, prayers and even sports scores.”

At Catcher… Myron Ginsberg

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Sixty years ago and fifty years ago. 1952 and 1962. They were memorable years for many of us.

In 1952 we – my parents, grandparents, brother and sister – lived in a lower three-bedroom flat on the west side of Detroit. Upstairs lived my best friends, the Carlebach boys, now superstars in the yeshiva world in Jerusalem. We played and attended many a ballgame together and spent time in front of my parents’ big television with the small black-and-white screen watching the Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy.

We knew the names of the horses of all the television cowboys and the batting averages of many major leaguers. We also swapped baseball cards.

For youngsters like us, having a new brand of baseball cards to collect made 1952 unforgettable. The new Topps cards were a bit bigger and more colorful than the smaller Bowman cards we were used to from the previous year.

By the time yeshiva day camp rolled around in the summer, we were all collecting the Topps brand. The card that stood out for our class was number 192 of the 350-card set: Myron Ginsberg.

That didn’t sound like a ballplayer, it sounded like the accountant down the block who went to the Young Israel. Also, Ginsberg’s card showed him wearing a chest protector from his catching gear. Myron Ginsberg’s middle name was Nathan, but during his tenure with the Tigers the radio broadcasters and newspaper reporters all referred him as Joe.

Fast forward ten years.

The half-hour TV cowboy shows aimed at youngsters were long gone. In its place were hour-long adult westerns – “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide,” “The Virginian,” “Wagon Train,” and my favorite at the time, Clint Walker in “Cheyenne.”

Joe Ginsberg’s 1952 Topps baseball card.

Also gone were the Jewish players who’d appeared in the first-ever Topps set ten years earlier – Cal Abrams, Sid Gordon, Saul Rogovin and Al Rosen.

Only one thing remained the same: Joe Ginsberg was still in the major leagues. Ginsberg dreideled around from Detroit, the city where he grew up and the team for whom he made his big league debut, to Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago (the White Sox) and Boston sandwiched between minor-league stops.

In 1962 Ginsberg was an original Met in the team’s inaugural season at the Polo Grounds under manager Casey Stengel. Ginsberg became the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first Met to take the field in the team’s home opener? (Hobie Landrith had been the catcher in the team’s Opening Day game in St. Louis.)

Ginsberg wasn’t a Met for long; after playing in two games and going hitless in five at-bats, he was released. He took his .241 career average back to Detroit and became a popular salesman for the Jack Daniels adult beverage company.

Having finished with my teen years when the Mets were born, I was also interested in the “real” news of 1962. As the Mets were losing most of their games, Adolf Eichmann was hanged on the last day in May at Israel’s Ramleh prison. As requested in his will, Eichmann’s body was cremated and the ashes scattered in the Mediterranean outside Israel’s waters.

Five days after the United States Supreme Court decided against the recital of prayer in public schools, Sandy Koufax pitched his first career no-hitter – against the New York Mets, naturally. Koufax started his June 30 gem by striking out the Mets on nine pitches in the first inning.

Anxiety reigned over the final weeks of the baseball season, and through the World Series won by the Yankees over the Giants, as reconnaissance photographs showed Russian missile sites in Cuba capable of housing missiles with a 2,000-mile range. President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Soviet ships approaching Cuba.

During the long standoff between the world’s nuclear superpowers, air-raid drills were held in American cities, schools and offices. Finally, with the help of United Nations Secretary-General U Thant in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the United States agreed not to invade Cuba.

With the Cuba crisis and World Series over, we went back to watching westerns.

 

Author, columnist and speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring while working for a major league team. Cohen, the president of a Detroit area shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Anusim/Crypto Jewish Conference Scheduled

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

On January 2, 1492 the queen and king of Spain, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, signed the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews. It is estimated that 300,000 Jews lived in the country and only one third managed to get out and continue practicing their faith.

One hundred thousand crossed the border to Portugal, where they considered to being safe, but only five years later they were forcibly converted to Christianity. One hundred thousand others were unable to leave Spain either took their faith underground or adopted the Catholic faith. The Church called them New Christians, but many of these New Christians were not so observant of their forced new faith, practicing their true Jewish beliefs secretly and within their homes.

Caminos de Israel is organizing its second annual Anusim and Crypto Jewish Conference, with experts in the field and Orthodox rabbis participating, on Sunday, February 12, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Marriot Dadeland in Miami. This year’s special speaker is a woman from Cuba who has traced her family’s Jewish ancestry all the way back to the 1400.

Due to limited seating, organizers ask that reservations be made in advance. Reservation in advance is $20 per person (at the door it’s $25 per person).

You can e-mail your reservation request to Loscaminosdeisrael@yahoo.com and you will receive a PayPal-secured link to make your reservation. If you wish to make your reservation over the phone, call 786-306-8211.

For more information, or to schedule this type of event in your synagogue or community, call Rabbi Moshe Otero at 786-306-8211.

Iranian PM Says Iran “being punished for no reason”

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking at Havana University in Cuba on Thursday, told students that Iran is “being punished for no reason,” in a veiled reference to the recent assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist.

According to Ahmadenijad, the West was persecuting Iran: “Have we ever attacked anyone? Have we sought more than we need? Never. We only want to pursue justice.”

Ahmadinejad is currently in the midst of an official tour of Latin America that has included stops in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and will take him to Ecuador next.

They Said What?! Exposing the ‘Mainstream’ Media

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The Media Research Center is out with its annual Best Notable Quotables awards – a compilation of the most outrageous and/or unintentionally revealing news media quotes from December 2010 through November 2011.

Votes were cast by a panel of 48 radio talk show hosts, magazine editors, columnists, editorial writers, and expert media observers.

The following are some of the more egregious examples of media bias and foolishness. (For the complete list, as well as the order in which they were ranked, visit www.mrc.org.)

Tea Party Terrorists

“We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. [Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has] been the target of violence before…. Her father says that ‘the whole Tea Party’ was her enemy. And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous ‘crosshairs’ list. Just yesterday, [liberal writer] Ezra Klein remarked that opposition to health reform was getting scary. Actually, it’s been scary for quite a while, in a way that already reminded many of us of the climate that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing…. Violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hatemongers.” – New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a 3:22 p.m. ET January 8 blog posting, less than two hours after news broke of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Salon’s Joan Walsh: “These people, the Tea Partiers and their friends and their enablers and their corporate friends…they have created this shrieking on the right…. They’re paying the lowest taxes in 50 years – more than 50 years, more than my lifetime – and they are still complaining. And some of them aren’t complaining. There are some good business people who know this game of chicken, in particular, is deadly and it’s wrong and it’s hostage-taking. And you shouldn’t negotiate with hostage-takers.” Host Chris Matthews: “I agree with you. I agree with you. I agree. It’s terrorism.” – MSNBC’s “Hardball,” July 5.

“If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the GOP on a suicide mission.” – New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, July 27.

“You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them. These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people…. For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough.” – New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, August 2.

The Object of Their Worship

“Can we just enjoy Obama for a moment? Before the policy choices have to be weighed and the hard decisions have to be made, can we just take a month or two to contemplate him the way we might contemplate a painting by Vermeer or a guitar lick by the early-seventies Rolling Stones or a Peyton Manning pass or any other astounding, ecstatic human achievement? Because twenty years from now, we’re going to look back on this time as a glorious idyll in American politics, with a confident, intelligent, fascinating president riding the surge of his prodigious talents from triumph to triumph…. ‘I am large, I contain multitudes,’ Walt Whitman wrote, and Obama lives that lyrical prophecy…. Barack Obama is developing into what Hegel called a ‘world-historical soul,’ an embodiment of the spirit of the times. He is what we hope we can be.” – Esquire’s Stephen Marche in a column for the magazine’s August 2011 issue: “How Can We Not Love Obama? Because Like It or Not, He Is All of Us.”

By calmly and meticulously overseeing the successful targeting of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama just proved himself – vividly, in almost biblical terms – to be an effective commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States.” – Ex-Newsweek correspondent and editor Howard Fineman writing at the Huffington Post, May 2.

Left-Wing Protest Promotion

“We thought we’d bring you up to date on those protesters, the Occupy Wall Street movement. As of tonight, it has spread to more than 250 American cities, more than a thousand countries – every continent but Antarctica.” – Diane Sawyer on ABC’s “World News,” October 10. On a later edition, Sawyer corrected her still-absurd hype: “…more than a thousand cities around the world.”

“Good evening. We begin tonight with what has become by any measure a pretty massive protest movement. While it goes by the official name ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ it has spread steadily and far beyond Wall Street, and it could well turn out to be the protest of this current era.” – Anchor Brian Williams leading off the October 5 NBC “Nightly News.”

“This week: people power making history. A revolt in the Midwest and a revolution sweeping across the Middle East…. Populist frustration is boiling over this week – as we’ve said, not just in the Middle East, but in the middle of this country as well.” ABC’s Christiane Amanpour opening “This Week,” February 20, referring to Wisconsin and Egypt.

Title: The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Title: The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond

Author: Ben G. Frank

Publisher: Globe Pequot Press

 

There are three kinds of travelers: there are tourists, there are businesspeople, and then there are historians like Ben G. Frank.

The last kind doesn’t simply go from here to there. They try to relive history and find the real meaning behind what they experience.

Some of us enjoy sightseeing, visiting places like the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canal of Venice, or the Eiffel Tower. Others enjoy a culinary adventure, perhaps to dine on French cuisine in Indonesia or Indonesian food in Berlin. Some may love to hop through dozens of museums. But Frank is seeking his and our roots, and the ghosts of Jewish civilization in locales that many of us haven’t even conceived of as having had anything of a Jewish past – let alone present.

Together with his lovely wife Riva, Frank has traveled, both as a working journalist and as a travel writer, in the footsteps of his namesake Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, as well as those of Marco Polo on the Silk Road, for most of life. And he’s still at it.

Frank has been one of the most prolific Jewish travel writers for many years. His articles have appeared widely, including the very pages of The Jewish Press to which he has often been a contributor.

To those of us who may never travel to these destinations, as well as to numerous other sites in the U.S. and around the globe, Frank opens our eyes to the unique differences as well as the astonishing similarities of Jewish communities and Jewish life in so many different places.

It certainly appears that Frank does his homework before setting off on each trip, to study the history and the customs of the people – Jewish and not – of each location, and knows what to seek out from the writings of those who have gone before him, including Jewish and non-Judaic sources. Throughout his career, he has remained committed to our Jewish practice and customs , even in places where there is no official communal Judaism or even a Chabad Rabbi, who are almost ubiquitous these days. He has taken siddurim to Cuba, tefillin to Russia, matzoh for sedorim and Jewish jokes everywhere.

The Scattered Tribe by Ben G. Frank is a handsomely produced soft-cover volume, and has a beautiful color plate section with photos from some of his travels . The book is a worthy addition to the travel section of any home library and a must-read for anyone planning to set off on one of these exotic destinations.

It’s My Opinion: Freedom

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

A boat was intercepted in the Florida Straits on July 13. A surveillance plane spotted the vessel and directed the U.S. Coast Guard to intervene. The boat held a passenger who had fled the island of Cuba.He was parched and exhaustedand was said to have been adrift for weeks. Rescuers were shocked to see that the seven-foot craft was made of Styrofoam.

 

Since the Communist takeover of Cuba, thousands of desperate men, woman and children have flocked to the shores of Florida. Often they risk their lives in homemade and rickety crafts. Some are made of inner tubes tied together with rope. Others are makeshift rafts. One amazing “boat” was an old taxicab that incredibly was set afloat. Desperation seems to have inspired ingenuity.

 

What could drive an individual to make such a perilous journey? What could motivate a human being to put himself through such danger? The answer is compelling.

 

The quest for freedom is a powerful motivator. It can cause people to act in remarkable ways. Throughout the course of time, revolutions and uprisings, revolts and freedom movements have been sparked by this desire.

 

The United States of America was created as a bastion of freedom. The Founding Fathers understood how precious this concept really was. Cubans, as well as people from around the world, are aware of this and that is why they flock to our shores.

 

My family escaped the tyranny of Eastern Europe to come to America in the beginning of the 1900s. They came from shteiblach in Poland and Jewish enclaves in Russian cities. They suffered from state-sanctioned anti-Semitism and stifling government control. They had no prospects of improving their lot. They sought freedom from these injustices. They prospered in this country. Their story is the quintessential American tale.

 

It is quite ironic that without a fight, war or declaration of intent, America’s citizens have given up many of their hard-won freedoms. Without even noticing, freedoms of choice, finances, business and privacy have been compromised, many within the last year-and-a-half.

 

The idea of an all-knowing big government (that caused so many to run away from other countries) has incrementally been introduced here. We have exchanged the American idea of free enterprise, that gave us prosperity, for a bail-out mentality that has never worked in any of the places and times that it has been tried.

 

This seems to be an age that rewards incompetence. The same federal bureaucracy that faces a failing Medicare and Medicaid system has now taken on national health care. The same federal bureaucracy that suffered the debacle of an embarrassing “cash for clunkers” car exchange, now heads General Motors. The same federal bureaucracy that has suffered many breaches of security on its most sensitive computer data has now exposed all Americans to have their most personal and private medical records on a national data bank.

 

It is time to wake up. Freedom is a priceless commodity. The American people need to be aware of how easily it can be lost.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/its-my-opinion-freedom/2010/07/28/

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