Gross: This is the Best Hanukkah in a Long Time

Alan Gross, who was released after five years in a Cuban jail, says "it's good to be home" upon arriving in Washington.

Ben Ariel ,

Alan Gross
Alan Gross

Alan Gross, the Jewish American contractor who was released on Wednesday after five years in jail in Cuba, sees his release as a Hanukkah gift.

“It’s good to be home,” Gross said at a news conference in Washington shortly after landing in the States, according to Bloomberg news. “It’s the best Hanukkah I’ll be celebrating in a long time.”

“It’s good to be home,” he added.

Gross, 65, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba in 2011 after being convicted of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state" for allegedly distributing communications equipment as a contractor for USAID.

Gross ended an eight-day hunger strike on April 11 to press for his release from prison. That hunger strike ended after a telephone conversation with his mother, who passed away two months later.

His release for three Cubans held in the United States for spying set the stage for a thaw in ties between Washington and Havana, which have not had diplomatic relations in more than 50 years.

Gross landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, shortly before President Barack Obama announced the biggest change in relations with the island nation in half a century.

In his remarks, Gross thanked Jewish organizations and U.S. lawmakers for pressing for his release.

“It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten,” he said, according to Bloomberg.

Gross was joined on the flight home by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who’s on the Foreign Relations Committee, hailed Gross’s release and thanked Pope Francis and the Canadian government for their efforts as intermediaries.

“His release marks a victory for American diplomacy,” Kaine said in an e-mailed statement. “I am overjoyed by today’s announcement.”