NY rabbi meets with jailed American in Cuba

HAVANA - A prominent New York rabbi met with imprisoned American subcontractor Alan Gross in Cuba on Tuesday, describing him as upbeat and concerned about family members back home.

Arthur Schneier of the Park East Synagogue said he spent about an hour and a half with Gross in the Havana facility where he is being held.

Photos on the rabbi's digital camera showed a thin, bearded Gross wearing glasses and a yarmulke, in a room with blue and white curtains and an air conditioner.

Schneier said he brought Gross a prayer shawl and hamantaschen, or three-cornered, sweet-filling pastries, and they prayed together to mark the eve of the Jewish holiday of Purim.

"I found him hopeful, and Purim is a festival of miracles. So we all pray that a miracle will allow us to see a resolution of the pain and suffering of all involved," Schneier said.

He declined to comment further, saying a statement would be issued upon his return by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, which Schneier founded and which organized his interfaith humanitarian mission to Cuba.

Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence stemming from his work importing satellite and other communications equipment onto the island under a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Cuba considers such programs to be attempts against its sovereignty, and he was convicted of crimes against the state.

Gross maintains that he was only trying to help Cuban Jews improve their Internet capability.

Gross, 62, who was heavyset when arrested in December 2009, has lost about 100 pounds, and his elderly mother and adult daughter are both battling cancer

He has received periodic visits including from U.S. religious and political figures, island Jewish community members and his wife, Judy.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, met with Gross on Feb. 23.

Schneier, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Austria, has led the Park East Synagogue since 1962 and worked to promote peace, human rights and religious tolerance around the world. He received the 2001 U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal for service to the nation.