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Protesting for Alan Gross

by Emily Jacobs

Staff Writer

"We're here because Alan Gross didn't do anything wrong and needs to be freed for humanitarian reasons so he can continue with his life-long journey to help people around the world," said B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) member Matthew Kovalsky, 17, of Olney.

Kovalsky, along with fellow BBYO-ers, members of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, and Rabbi Jack Moline, protested the arrest of Alan Gross outside the Cuban Interests Section in the District on Monday. Protests to pressure Cuba to free Gross are held on a weekly basis.

Gross, a Potomac native was arrested in Cuba in 2009 after traveling to the Havana area to set up internet connections for their Jewish community. The Cuban government accused Gross of espionage on behalf of the United States. On March 12, 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in Cuban prison.

The group of protesters held up signs that read "bring Alan Gross home" and chanted in unison "free Alan Gross now." They also held up signs to passing cars on the street, encouraging them to listen to their message. Adam Tennen, Mid-Atlantic area executive director for BBYO, Inc., explained that standing up for a cause such as Alan Gross "is the essence of what we do at BBYO, we want to inspire these teens to do good in the world."

Protesting for Alan Gross is not only their Stand Up Cause, but a cause close to the hearts of those involved with BBYO, as Gross himself was very active in the organization. He was in Chesapeake AZA, the male wing of BBYO, and served as its Aleph Godol (president) of Baltimore Council AZA. He then went on to be an adviser of Daniel AZA Chapter in Washington Council and then the assistant director of the D.C. Council that incorporates the AZA and BBG (B'nai B'rith Girls) chapters in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia under Ruth Canor. Gross also helped form Friends of BBYO, a local fund to support the D.C Council.

"I think being Jewish, there's an automatic connection to him because it's a connection to the Jewish community at large," said BBYO-er Jenna Kress, 16, of Bethesda. "The fact that I'm in BBYO and that he had been such a strong support system for BBYO makes me feel an even stronger connection to him."

Added fellow BBYO-er Leah Kraft, 17, of Rockville, "We're really happy to be here and that we had the opportunity to get out and fight for his rights and raise awareness throughout BBYO and our community. We have a lot of voices that we hope will be heard."

Also holding vigil among the congregants and BBYO-ers was Rabbi Arnold Saltzman of Hevrat Shalom in Rockville, Sha'are Shalom in Waldorf and Beit Chaverim of Calvert County.

Saltzman pointed out that they were not only there for Gross, but for his family as well.

"Alan's family is suffering freely from his absence. He didn't do anything to injure anyone, and we need these demonstrations to give his family some hope and bring this to our own government."

While there was no visible response from the Cuban Interests Section, the group hopes to have made some difference and show Gross and his family that they will not give up until he is back home.

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