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August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
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Sean Penn Sneaked Orthodox Prisoner Ostreicher Back to the US


Jacob Ostreicher, an American entrepreneur and Orthodox Jew, was arrested in Bolivia in 2011 while overseeing a rice growing venture and held as a suspect in a money laundering investigation.

Jacob Ostreicher, an American entrepreneur and Orthodox Jew, was arrested in Bolivia in 2011 while overseeing a rice growing venture and held as a suspect in a money laundering investigation.

I’ve enjoyed a great number of Sean Penn’s films over the years. Clearly, he’s an incredibly talented and versatile actor, a giant among his kind. His far-left political persuasions, however, I’ve never found particularly entertaining.

In 2002, with America at war in Afghanistan and the entire world still trying to pick up the pieces of 9/11, Penn took out a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post accusing President George W. Bush of fear-mongering and suppressing public debate on the impending war in Iraq. This while Saddam Hussein had murdered, according to The New York Times in January, 2003, approximately 1.1 million people.

In 2006, upon winning the first annual Christopher Reeve First Amendment Award from the Creative Coalition, Penn used his acceptance speech to take his rhetoric a step further, this time calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Penn regularly touted his close friendship with the late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, a violent dictator who dismantled Venezuela’s democratic institutions. Following Chavez’s death, Penn told The Hollywood Reporter, “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion… I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela.”

You don’t have to be a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Economics to know that Chavez’s economic policies were catastrophic to his country, much to the detriment of his nation’s middle class. Moreover, he wielded his power authoritatively, perhaps even brutally, as Human Rights Watch notes, “the concentration of power and erosion of human rights protections had given the government free rein to intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political agenda. In recent years, the president and his followers used these powers in a wide range of prominent cases, whose damaging impact was felt by entire sectors of Venezuelan society.”

Penn’s also been open about his equally close friendship with dictator and flagrant human rights abuser and murderer, Cuba’s Fidel Castro. He also met with Saddam Hussein’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, one of the henchman’s closest advisers, when visiting Iraq in 2003. Then, after returning from a visit to Iran in 2005, Penn referred to Iran in a 2007 op-ed as “a great country.”

In the past, I’ve disagreed vehemently with Sean Penn on a range of issues, several I’ve omitted in an effort to keep this piece under ten pages.

But Penn did something recently that blew my mind and, in the spirit of gratitude, I must acknowledge.

Jacob Ostreicher is an American entrepreneur and Orthodox Jew who was arrested in Bolivia in 2011 while overseeing a rice growing venture and held as a suspect in a money laundering investigation. He spent 18 months in Bolivia’s Palmasola prison, an infamous complex described by The New York Times as ‘a squalid prison’ where Ostreicher claimed he was beaten and humiliated and had to pay off his jailers. Ostreicher was never formally charged with a crime and had been under house arrest until just days ago, that is, until Sean Penn stepped in and took on a cause for justice.

The details of what transpired are minimal and sketchy at best, as is how Penn — who traveled to Bolivia on what he describes as a “humanitarian operation” — managed to sneak Ostreicher across a hostile border and into a safe and currently undisclosed location in the United States where he is reportedly receiving medical treatment with Penn by his side.

What is known is that, as Bolivia now issues warnings calling for Ostreicher’s extradition, Sean Penn may have just played his greatest role to date — bona fide hero. And off-screen, no less.

Penn had no obligation to risk his life for Ostreicher. To my knowledge, he has no immediate connection to him. Penn has Jewish lineage on his father’s side, but that doesn’t necessarily qualify either. I’d like to think Penn had a simple and straightforward reason for taking on Ostreicher cause — another human being in need.

The other hero in this story is the Aleph Institute, based in my childhood home of Miami, Florida, and run by my friend Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipsker. Aleph does a great deal to assist Jewish prisoners in the United States and abroad. Ostreicher personally thanked the Institute for helping to gain his release by contacting Penn who then traveled to Bolivia and made a direct appeal to President Evo Morales.

There is much other good that Penn has done, none more so than moving to Haiti after the devastation of the January, 2010 earthquake, which I personally witnessed shortly after the cataclysm. Penn started a relief organization which employs 350 people and which is credited with assisting nearly 60,000 displaced persons.

Every year my organization, This World: The Values Network, of which I serve as Founder and Executive Director and which seeks to disseminate universal Jewish values, hosts an international awards gala for those championing Jewish values. Past recipients include Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, America’s Doctor Mehmet Oz, and mega-philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

This coming 18 May, corresponding to the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, at Cipriani in New York City, we will be honoring, in the 25th year since the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent me and my wife to Oxford, England, to serve as his personal emissaries and establish the Oxford University L’Chaim Society, our student presidents and graduates who have distinguished themselves in public service, most notably Senator Cory Booker, L’Chaim President in 1994, and Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, L’Chaim President in 1996. We will also be honoring global anti-genocide campaigner and former Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, John Prendergast.

With Sean Penn’s heroic actions on the part of a Jewish prisoner unjustly held, and in celebrating his resolve and determination to save a life that so many had given up on, Penn is deserving of such an honor and, should he accept, we would be honored to add him to the list.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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39 Responses to “Sean Penn Sneaked Orthodox Prisoner Ostreicher Back to the US”

  1. I’m just shocked that such a vehement anti-Semite would do that

  2. who said its true? does shmuley boteach have first hand knowledge of this? did he hear it first hand from sean penn?

  3. Give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Sean Penn

  4. Ellis Katz says:

    I have always liked Penn as an actor, even while disagreeing with his politics. “Rescuing” Ostreicher shouldn’t make Penn a hero, because it seems like Ostreicher was probably a crook. I guess we will never know one way or the other.

  5. I’m glad he is free. No human deserves to be treated like that. Thank you Sean for doing this. I may not agree with you politically but I am grateful for your heart.

  6. Dov Herman says:

    Shmuly Boteach also claimed to be at the NJ mall shooting , always available for a media blitz. So where is Jacob Ostriecher?

  7. so was he really there? sorry but i am a bit skeptical when it comes to shmuley boteach, i dont believe him!!

  8. for what? who said he was the one who actually got him out

  9. Yes!! Sean Penn is an activist for civil rights and human rights

  10. James Smith says:

    Not buying it! Penn has an angle that benefits him. You were probably hired by him to tell this story. He does not go anywhere without a camera crew.

  11. How about “snuck”?

  12. Alan Lattke says:

    It may prove in this case (as not all the facts are clear) that even a Rasha like Sean can do Teshuva. It may.

  13. Pedro Acosta says:

    He did a good thing.

  14. Rick Fortner says:

    Maybe Penn has seen the errors of his ways

  15. Alan Kardon says:

    Ever hear the comment "Something is not kosher here."

  16. JoAnn Mest says:

    Stand opposed to Sean Penn on almost everything he stands for….except for this act of daring. Bravo ! He may not be welcome in Bolivia again.

  17. Judy Shapiro says:

    I weep as I read this: Sean: PLS help us with releasing Jonathan Pollard to ISRAEL and Cuba's long held detaine Gross. Their overboard prosecutions are because they are JEWs.
    This time Sean got it right!

  18. Sean Penn, such a blessing, now, please for all of us, keep your personal opinions to yourself…most of us are just not interested in what actors think or believe and most especially about national leadership of the US!

  19. From all the bad decisions Sean Penn made in supporting Dictators who do not stand behind 'a life of freedom' — I applaud him for freeing Ostreicher from imprisonment in Bolivia!

  20. Ahron Ebert says:

    If the Rebbe sent u to Oxford what are you doiing in the USA. Shalichas is a lifetime apointment.

  21. Don Mcglaun says:

    EVERYONE'S ENTITLED TO AN EPIPHANY NOW AND THEN!!

  22. Martin Matheny says:

    I admire SP's acting ability, but his politics are anything but acceptable or endearing. Based on the writer's comments, this act certainly does endear Penn to those who appreciate courage…point, well done Mr. Penn.

  23. There is still goodness and great in mr penn god bless him.

  24. Isn’t it “snuck”?

  25. Yechiel Baum says:

    how could he has "sneaked" him out of "prison"? Ostreicher is too big to fit into Penn's pocket?

  26. mr. penn must have had an epiphany regarding his true self. or, he is hearing voices. in Hebrew. most likely, both.

  27. SP "chews the scenery" like in Yiddish art theater and follows in the radical tradition his father, Leo, carried thwarting his own theatre career. CHEERS!

  28. I don't think that Penn did it personally… I think that he helped facilitate it. Don't believe everything you read…

  29. Anonymous says:

    Was it REALLY a rice field or …hmmmmm, in Bolivia, hmmmmm.

  30. Dovid Elazar says:

    where are your sources?

  31. J Iván Aliaga M says:

    MUCHOS SALUDOS CORDIALES.

    ACLARAR EN MI IDIOMA, CON MUCHO APRECIO Y CALIDÉZ HUMANA.

    1. EL GRAN HUGO CHAVEZ Y TODOS LOS PRESIDENTES PROGRESISTAS A QUIENES ERRÓNEAMENTE LES LLAMAN «DICTADORES»… HAN HECHO MUCHO POR LOS QUE MENOS OPORTUNIDADES HAN TENIDO POR CULPA DE GOBIERNOS ENTREGUISTAS E IRRESPONSABLES Y GENOCIDAS DEL PASADO.

    2. MR. OSTREICHER ESTABA ACUSADO X DELITOS RELACIONADOS AL NARCOTRÁFICO EN BOLIVIA (MI PAÍS). LA SITUACIÓN JUDICIAL AÚN TIENE MUCHAS FALENCIAS Y PEOR AÚN EL SISTEMA PENITENCIARIO EL CUAL ES PRECARIO.
    3. NO TENGO NADA EN CONTRA DEL PUEBLO JUDÍO, NI DE OSTREICHER, NI DE MR. PENN, NI MR. WAHLBERG.
    4. ESPERO QUE TODO SE ACLARE Y QUE TODO QUEDE EN LOS MEJORES TÉRMINOS. PERO CONOZCAN LA OTRA REALIDAD DE NUESTROS PAÍSES VERÁN QUE AQUÍ HAY AMPLIA DEMOCRACIA Y RESPETO A LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS. GOOD BYE. MY FRIENDS.

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