On Dec. 16, 2013, Jewish businessman Jacob Ostreicher returned to U.S. soil after more than two years of incarceration in Bolivia. That development prompted me to write this analysis on the future prospects for other controversially imprisoned Jews, including Alan Gross and Jonathan Pollard. At the time, despite the news on Ostreicher, I can't say I was too optimistic about Gross or Pollard being freed. But on Wednesday, exactly one year (plus one day) after Ostreicher gained his freedom, Gross's five-year stay in Cuban prison came to an end.
Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet, received a 15-year prison sentence for what the Cuban government called “crimes against the state.” His fifth full year in prison passed earlier this month, on Dec. 3. It seemed that every year on Dec. 3 at JNS.org, we would perform the perfunctory task of "reporting" that Gross was marking the anniversary of another year of incarceration, with seemingly no end in sight. The story's text would essentially never be altered, other than the number of years that had passed since Gross was arrested in 2009.
Yet that suddenly changed, perhaps fittingly, on the first day of Hanukkah 2014. When an email alert on the U.S.-Cuba prisoner exchange that freed Gross appeared in my inbox, I must admit that I took off my "reporter's hat" for a second just to soak in the news. As a journalist—particularly if you're reporting on topics like the chaotic Middle East and the ceaseless Israeli-Palestinian conflict—it's easy to get caught up in "bad news" and to become almost sensitized to the same gloomy developments repeating themselves on what feels like an automated loop. But Gross's freedom, after five long years, reminds us not to always assume the worst. It's not very journalistic, objective, or scientific to reference "miracles," but for me, it's hard not to call the release of Gross the miracle of this Hanukkah.