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April 25, 2014

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PAGE 16A Alex Wong/Getty Images Supporters of Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, rally outside the White House on Dec. 3, 2013. By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Alan Gross did not warn his family he was launching a hunger strike, but hearing the news, they understood why: The U.S. government subcontractor languishing in a Cuban prison feels forgotten. Gross, a 64-year-old Jewish father of two from Potomac, Md., is currently serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for "crimes against the state." He was arrested in December 2009 while on a mission to hook up Cuba's small Jewish community with the Internet. The company he was working for had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. "We're asking that the U.S. government do what- ever it takes," Jill Zuckman, HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 25, 2014 After his hunger strike, Alan Gross' backers ramp up calls for US. action a spokeswoman for the Gross family, told JTA in an April 11 interview, the day Gross ended his fast after eight days. "This situation is not going to be resolved unless President Obama takes a personal inter- est in it." The intervention of his mother, Evelyn Gross, who turned 92 on Tuesday, led Gross to quit his hunger strike. In a statement, Gross said he was fed up with the approach of both Cuba and the United States. "My protest fast is sus- pended as of today, although there will be further protests to come," Gross said in a state- ment. "There will be no cause for further intense protest when both governments show more concern for human beings and less malice and derision toward each other." Efforts to win Gross' release have faced diplomatic and po- litical obstacles. Cuba wants the release of its citizens who have been convicted of espio- nage, while anti-communist Cuban-Americans have been resistant to compromise. It all leaves Gross and his advocates feeling ignored and seeking new ways of finding attention. Increasingly, Jew- ish groups have been criti- cizing the U.S. government's handling of Gross' case. Quoting from the state- ment by Gross announcing his hunger strike, the Conference of Presidents of Major Ameri- can Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella body for U.S. Jewish groups, issued a similar pox-on-both-houses admonition. "We believe that his case has not been given the urgent attention itwarrants,"said the statement signed by Malcolm Hoenlein, the body's executive vice president, and Robert Sugarman, its chairman. "The U.S. government has a special responsibility to Mr. Gross who is fasting to 'ob- ject to mistruths, deceptions and inaction by the govern- ments...' and to call attention to 'the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal.'" He launched his hunger strike on April 3, leaving a message with his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, the next day. "We didn't know that he was going to go on a hunger strike," Zuckman said."We've all been very worried about him. He wasn't in great health to begin with to not eat any solid foods for over a week." A final straw for Gross was the revelation that USAID had launched a bid--after his arrest--to open a Twitter-like channel of communications to promote democracy and anti-regime sentiment among Cubans. The initiative ended in 2011 due to a lack of fund- ing. "Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," Gilbert said in a statement. Gross had been subcontracting for a contractor that was working for USAID. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another," the attorney said. "Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high- level representatives of the ObamaAdministration about USAID's activities in Cuba." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate on April 3 that efforts have been launched to free Gross but added he could not elaborate. "We have a number of efforts underway, which I would be happy to talk to you about privately," Kerry said in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents were Cuban immigrants. "Butwe are very, very focused on trying to get Alan Gross out of there. His treatment is inhumane. And he is wrongfully imprisoned." Gross' family will not say what specifically they believe the Obama administration could do to free Gross. His wife, Judy, in 2011 had advo- cated humanitarian gestures for the so-called Cuban Five-- Cubans who were convicted in the United States of spying offenses in 2001. Since then, the Obama administration has released two of the five before their sentences were complete for good behavior. One of the twowas allowed, while still on parole, to visit an ailing family member in Cuba. Cuban officials have not explicitly offered Gross for the Cuban Five, butthey have said it would be a natural trade. The Miami Herald on April 9 quoted Josefina Vidal, the Cuban official in charge of U.S. relations as saying that meeting the "humanitarian concerns" regarding the three spies still in prison could "re- solve" Gross' case. The still-imprisoned Cu- bans had received longer sentences than the other two. One is serving a life term because of his involvement in the Cuban Air Force's fatal 1996 downing of two planes belonging to a Cuban activist group. Four Americans were killed in the attack. The Cuban government's interests section here did not respond to a request for comment, but in the past its officials have said that the situations of Gross and the Cu- ban Five are not comparable. They noted that Gross was allowed to see his wife while in prison and the Cuban Five were not. In its statement, the Presi- dents Conference said Gross is "being held hostage to ap- parently unrelated demands and actions." In an interview, Hoenlein did not explain who was making the demands or ac- tions. But Hoenlein said the Obama administration has lifted some travel restrictions on Cuba, and he suggested refraining from further U.S. gestures toward Cuba pend- ing a resolution of Gross' situation. "The feeling is there hasn't been any serious negotiation," he said. "We are doing things with the Cubans, we made concessions with Cubans. Maybe we have to hold back." Obama has eased some policies, including travel and money-transfer restrictions, but has held back on other rollbacks, in part because of the influence of American critics of Cuba. A delicate issue for Gross' advocates in the Jewish com- munity is that some of the fiercest opponents of ac- commodation with Cuba are also some of Israel's most prominent congressional al- lies, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair- man of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez, considered key by pro-Israel groups in over- seeing the current nuclear talks with Iran headed by the United States, has expressed support for the Cuban Twitter program that triggered Gross' hunger strike. "The whole purpose of our democracy programs, whether it be in Cuba or other parts of the world, is in part to create a free flow of infor- mation in closed societies," Menendez told The Associated Press, which uncovered the program's existence. Remembering famed Jewish astronomer Carl Sagan By Robert Gluck Carl Sagan fans old and new have been gazing at their tele- visions in awe as host Dr. Neil Degrasse son's resurrection of the science epic "Cosmos" takes them on a journey from the Big Bang, to microscopic one-celled organisms, to the ascent of man, to beyond the stars and planets. The return of "Cosmos"-- which launched in March and runs for 13 episodes on the Fox network, ending June 2-- provides an opportune time to remember Sagan, the show's Jewish creator. An American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author, Sagan was born to Reform Jews. According to science writer William Poundstone, author of "Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos," Sagan's family celebrated the High Holidays and his parents made sure Carl knew the Jew- ish traditions. "Both of his parents in- stilled in him this drive to get ahead in America, and that is something he kept all his life," Poundstone told JNS. org. "It may have been one factor in this idea that he not only wanted to be a successful astronomer, but [also] to write books, to become a celeb- rity and an entrepreneur. His mother particularly instilled that in him." Born in Brooklyn to Samuel Sagan, an immigrant gar- ment worker from Russia, and Rachel Molly Gruber, a housewife from New York, Carl was named in honor of Rachel's biological mother Chaiya Clara. Both Carl and his sister say their father was not particularly religious, but their mother believed in God, was active in her synagogue, and served only kosher meat. From an early age, Sagan was seized with the mission of searching for life on other worlds, a quest that would dominate his entire profes- sional career. Poundstone recounts how this quest con- tinuously drove Sagan, from his adolescent chemistry-set accidents, to his colorful academic career, to his pro- fessional work on the Viking and Voyager NASA missions, nuclear disarmament, "Cos- mos," and Robert Zemeckis's film "Contact" (starring Jodi Foster). In 1986, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) presented Sagan with the Nahum Gold- mann Medal, according to WJC NorthAmerican press of- ricer Eve Kessler. The medal is awarded to distinguished indi- viduals for their contributions to universal humanitarian causes and actions benefiting the Jewish people. At that time Sagan, gave an address titled "The Final Solu- tion of the Human Problem: AdolfHitler and Nuclear War." "If the United States and the Soviet Union permit a nuclear war to break out, they would have retroactively lost the Second World War and made that sacrifice meaningless," Sagan said after accepting the Goldmann medal. "If we take seriously our obligation to the tens of millions who perished in World War II, we must rid the planet of the blight of nuclear weapons." Also in 1986, Sagan re- ceived the Shalom Center's first Brit HaDorot (Covenant of the Generations) Peace Award. Shared with Boston's Jewish Coalition for a Peace- ful World, the award was presented to Jews who work to prevent a nuclear Holocaust. "We had relatives who were caught up in the Holocaust," Sagan wrote. "Hitler was not a popular fellow in our household. On the other hand, I was fairly insulated from the horrors of the war." In his 1996 book "The De- mon-Haunted World," Sagan included his memories of this conflicted period when his family dealt with the realities of the war in Europe, but tried to prevent it from undermin- ing his optimistic spirit. "Carl fulfilled his mother's unfulfilled dreams," Pound- stone told Sagan spent most of his career as a professor of as- tronomy at Cornell Univer- sity, where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was the author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated for scientific skeptical inquiry and promoted the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. But it was perhaps Sagan's personality--not just his scientific credentials--that popularized "Cosmos" on the PBS television network. "One of the reasons the original 'Cosmos' series worked was Sagan was one of the few scientists who could wear jeans and a turtle neck and look comfortable," Poundstone said. "He did have this vibe as someone who was cool and a member of the youth culture. That was a big part of the show's appeal." Cornell University's press release at the time of Sagan's death called him the world's greatest popularizer of sci- ence, as he reached millions of people through newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts. "Cosmos"--seen by more than 500 million people in 60 countries--be- came the most watched series in public-television history. The accompanying book, "Cosmos" (1980), was on The New York Times bestseller list for 70 weeks and was the best-selling science book ever published in English. "Carl was a candle in the dark," said Yervant Terzian, chairman of Cornell's as- tronomy department. "He was the best science educator in the world this century. He touched hundreds of millions of people and inspired young generations to pursue the sciences." Sagan predicted that the surface of Venus was 900 degrees Fahrenheit, a finding confirmed by the Mariner 2 robotic space probe. "He was the architect of the greenhouse effect model of Venus's atmosphere," Pound- stone told "Sagan's model was a radical thing at the time but it was dramati- cally confirmed by the first NASA space probe. It was an incredible achievement. Sagan probably couldn't have dreamed at the time that the greenhouse effect would be important in the current debate we're having about whether human produced carbon dioxide is changing our climate. His work was important to that." Promoted as a program that shows how matter, over billions of years, transforms into consciousness, the past and present versions of "Cos- mos" speak to the joy one can find in nature, science, and perhaps--as Sagan be- lieved-the search for intel- ligent life in space. Sagan was enthusiastic about sending messages to possible extraterrestrials. The Pioneer Plaques were a pair of gold anodized aluminum plaques placed on board the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 NASA space probe s, featuring a pictorial message in case either was intercepted by extraterrestrial life. The plaques show the nude figures of a human male and female along with several symbols designed to provide informa- tion about the origin of the spacecraft. The Voyager Golden Re- cord, a much more complex and detailed message using state-of-the-art media, was attached to the Voyager space- craft launched in 1977. "The Voyager Golden Re- cord is often credited with spurring the degree of inter- est we have in world music," Poundstone said. "They com- piled this wonderful sampler of all the world's musical tra- ditions, which was something you didn't get so much then but you do now." Poundstone identifies three elements that define Sagan's legacy. "He was a great, poetic writer and he was able to com- municate that on screen," he said. "Second, he tends to be underrated as a scientist, but he did incredible things in- cluding the greenhouse effect on Venus and a lot of work on Mars. He was the first to show that the dark areas were high mountains and not low seas. Third, he was a great advocate of the skeptic movement, the idea that you have to have evidence for a claim."