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American held in Cuba gets Rosh Hashanah visit

Alan and Judy Gross
Alan and Judy Gross AP/Gross Family

Jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross shared honey cake and coffee with leaders of Cuba's Jewish community on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, according to one of the participants.

In an email sent to CBS News, Adela Dworin, president of the community, says she and David Prinstein, vice president of the Jewish Community Center had a "private" two-hour meeting with Gross.

Dworin describes Gross as being dressed in a blue guayabera, the typical pleated-front Cuban dress shirt.

"According to his own words and what we could see, his physical condition is good and he is receiving careful medical attention," she writes.

She says he spoke about his concern over the health of his closest relatives. "For our part, he received the promise that we would pray for their rapid recovery." Gross's daughter was recently operated on for breast cancer and his mother has also been diagnosed with cancer.

Their visit took place in a small room for visitors at the Havana Military Hospital where the American is serving his time.

This is the second time the Cuban Government has facilitated such a visit with the American sub-contractor arrested in December 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison last March after a two-day trial for smuggling in illegal internet equipment that could be used by government opponents to escape official controls and promote regime change. The Cuban Supreme Court heard an appeal from his lawyers but upheld his sentence.

Dworin says they could see Gross was "very grateful for the interest exhibited by the Cuban Jewish Community to visit him and share with him the arrival of the new year 5772." Dworin's first visit with Gross, last April to take him Passover foods lasted only 30 minutes.

On this occasion, "Coffee, water and juices" were set out on a table in a corner of the room and Gross, "In his role as 'host' together with us offered the typical Jewish toast: L'chaim -- to life," according to Dworin.

Dworin says they brought Gross traditional New Year's sweets, including honey cake prepared for him by women in the congregation. "The three of us shared this typical cake while conversing about different things," reads the email. Asked by phone if Gross had asked the Cuban Jewish Community to intervene in seeking his release, Dworin said no.

Gross insists he was only working to improve internet access for the island's Jewish Community.

There have been many pleas for his release on humanitarian grounds by his wife, the U.S. Government and most recently by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who left Havana earlier this month after failing to gain Gross' release or even being allowed to visit him. Richardson said he was in Cuba as a private citizen but that he had the support of the State Department. Both President Obama and State Department have described Gross' imprisonment as a major obstacle to any further improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations.

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