Cuban official: Cuba is ready to negotiate status of Alan Gross


Authorities in Cuba are ready to negotiate the status of jailed American Alan Gross, a senior Cuban official said.

“We have made clear to the U.S. government that we are ready to have a negotiation in order to try and find a solution, a humanitarian solution to Mr. Gross’ case on a reciprocal basis,” Josefina Vidal, the top official in the Cuban Foreign Ministry handling North America, said in an interview on CNN on May 10.

Vidal would not offer specifics, but prompted by interviewer Wolf Blitzer, she said the “Cuban Five”—five agents jailed or on probation in the United States for espionage charges—were a concern.

“Cuba has legitimate concerns, humanitarian concerns related to the situation of the Cuban Five,” she said.

Vidal said the Cuban system does not allow for a humanitarian release for Gross, who was sentenced last year to 15 years on espionage charges related to his U.S. State Department-backed project to hook Cuba’s Jews into the Internet.

“It is not conceived in the Cuban system that persons in this situation can be allowed to travel abroad,” she said.

Gross, who is Jewish, has asked to be allowed to visit his 90-year-old mother, who is dying of cancer.

Italy raising Palestinians’ status to ambassador


Italy plans to upgrade the level of the Palestinian representative in Rome to ambassador.

President Giorgio Napolitano made the announcement Monday during a joint news conference in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahnoud Abbas.

The upgrade from delegation to full diplomatic status follows similar decisions announced in recent months by Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries.

Napolitano on Tuesday concluded a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authiority. During his visit he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and other senior officials.

During a ceremony at Tel Aviv University, he formally accepted a $1 million Dan David Prize, which he was awarded in 2010 for his political activism, particularly in reorienting the Italian Community Party toward the mainstream European model of social democracy.

The announcement of plans to upgrade the Palestinian representative drew words of caution from some Italian Jewish leaders.

Israeli Knesset member Fiamma Nirenstein expressed appreciation for Napolitano’s visit, during which he reiterated “the feelings of deep friendship between the Italian and Israeli people,” but she said the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah made instituting a Palestinian ambassador to Rome “problematic.”

‘Google Exodus’ tells the Passover tale via tweets, Facebook [VIDEO]


What would the Exodus have looked like online?

That’s the premise behind “Google Exodus,” a two-minute video that tells the Passover story using social media.

In the video, which has gone viral with more than 1 million page views since being uploaded March 31 onto YouTube, God Skypes Moses, Moses finds Pharoah’s palace using Google maps, and he and Pharaoh engage in a heated e-mail exchange about letting the Jewish people go. Moses orders live frogs and other plagues on Amazon.com, and he tweets his success to the Israelites via Twitter.

“We view this film as a natural extension of what we do, which is to reach out to Jews of every background using modern tools,” said Nechemia Coopersmith, the Jerusalem-based chief editor of Aish.com, part of the three-man team that produced the video. “We wanted to take all the social media tools—Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo.answers, Google street view, Skype—and weave them into the story of the Exodus.”

Aish.com is the website of Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem-based Jewish educational and outreach organization with branches around the world.

The video opens with a CNN news alert: “Pharoah Enslaves Jews.” As Pharaoh and Moses trade messages via gmail and iPhones—Moses’ “Let my people go!” is met with Pharaoh’s “No way!”—the lead-up to the plagues begins.

“My staff just turned into a snake! Cool,” writes Moses, updating his status on Facebook. Later, a YouTube video shows a plague of locusts descending on a field.

Story continues after the jump.

Video Courtesy of AishVideo.

When the Jews leave Egypt and reach the Red Sea, viewers get up close and personal as the waves part when Google maps zooms in for a “street view.” The scene is of Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments.”

“Google Exodus” is proving a huge hit, steering a tremendous amount of web traffic to Aish’s Hebrew and English websites. The video also was released in Spanish on the organization’s Spanish-language website. This week, the video ranked fourth on the UK Guardian’s Viral Video Chart.

“With Passover coming up, this film is a fun way to reach people who might otherwise not be interested,” Shraga Simmons, senior editor of Aish.com and a member of the production team, told JTA. ” ‘Google Exodus’ enables us to communicate Jewish values in a language that everyone can understand. And the cool thing is that it is spreading via the same web tools featured in the video.”

If Christianity evolved out of Judaism, this Exodus video was inspired by the birth of Jesus—specifically a Christian video released last December called “Digital Story of the Nativity,” which narrates the baby-in-the-manger tale using the same social media tools employed by the Aish.com team.

The big difference?

“Google Exodus” uses a jazzy orchestral version of the Passover seder song “Dayenu,” while Digital Jesus rocks along to “Jingle Bells.”

Coopersmith says the Nativity video was itself inspired by a popular Google ad that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl telling the story of a Parisian-American love affair conducted via Google tools.

That ad only used Google, Coopersmith said, whereas “we wanted to expand and use every social media tool possible.”

The Aish team is now busy on its next project: a social media-rich video for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. It should be up on Aish.com a week before the May 9 holiday, Aish officials said.