Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Boteach: Sean Penn’s Humanity is Worth Celebrating (INTERVIEW)

February 11, 2014 10:23 pm 2 comments

Jacob Ostreicher. Photo: Judea1/Wikimedia Commons.

Media personality Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said it was the humanity of actor Sean Penn, in helping to rescue Chasidic Jew Jacob Ostreicher from a Bolivian prison, that motivated him to nominate Penn for his organization’s 2014 ‘Champion of Jewish Justice’ award that will be presented to the actor at a gala in May.

“The essence of this award, is that you don’t have to agree with someone’s politics to honor his tremendous humanity,” Rabbi Boteach told The Algemeiner in an interview on Tuesday.

“Sean Penn is one of the most famous people in the world, who could do anything, and he chose to spend his time, first, going to Haiti, after the earthquake, where I think he as an individual did more than any other single person to help the Haitians survive and rebuild, and then going to Bolivia with no other purpose than to save some Chasidic Jew with whom he has absolutely no connection,” Boteach said. “The purpose of this organization, what we’ve devoted the past 25 years to building, is to promoting Jewish values and this man’s tireless work for others exemplifies the good people should be striving to emulate in our society today.”

Boteach said, that while he was still uncertain of all the details, from what he’s understood, Penn personally intervened with Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, who he may have known through his more well-known political ties to former Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez, to bring home Ostreicher, a 54-year-old Brooklyn native, who had been arrested by the Bolivians, but was never charged, then spent 18 months in prison before being released to house arrest, where he languished for another year.

Penn was reported to have traveled to Bolivia in a “humanitarian operation” and, according to accounts, brought Ostreicher across a hostile border and into a safe location where he reportedly received medical treatment, with the actor by his side.

Penn’s involvement in secreting out Ostreicher from Bolivia in December led the rabbi to reevaluate his thinking on the actor, with whom he’s disagreed politically in the past. In an Op-Ed published in The Algemeiner, ‘Sean Penn, My Unlikely Hero,’ Boteach worked through the actor’s public battles, and came out on the other end with a request for Penn to accept his award.

“Penn had no obligation to risk his life for Ostreicher,” Boteach wrote. “I’d like to think he was moved by the simplest of reasons – to save another human being in need.”

“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.”

The Aleph Institute, the Miami-based Jewish organization that assists prisoners and worked with Penn to free Ostreicher, and then Ostreicher, himself, brought Boteach’s article to Penn’s attention.

Surprisingly, even for the rabbi, the actor accepted.

“We’re obviously just thrilled with the news, and I think his involvement will lead many to see our work in a new light,” he said.

Rather than speeches, Boteach said the format of the Gala will be a series of panels, with the plan to have both Penn and Ostreicher be interviewed by Boteach on the dais, which will be the first time the two men will be interviewed publicly about what really happened in Bolivia.

Another pairing at the event will feature New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, also both honorees, though their involvement goes much further back than their currently political roles, Boteach said.

Indeed, the event also celebrates Boteach’s silver anniversary in the Rabbinate, with he and his wife Debbie sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as emissaries to Oxford University 25 years ago. There he established The L’Chaim Society whose past presidents include Booker, who will receive the Champion of Human Spirit award, and Dermer, who will receive the Defender of His People award.

Anti-genocide activist John Prendergast will also receive the Champion of Human Life award.

Boteach, 47, said the silver anniversary came upon him surprisingly — “I didn’t realize I’ve been a rabbi for 25 years,” he told The Algemeiner — and that beyond the high profile honorees many “non-famous” former Oxford students have already written to say they plan to attend the Gala.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard will also be attending the dinner, as will its main sponsors, philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson and Judy and Michael Steinhardt.

The event is organized by Boteach’s ‘This World: The Values Network,’ described as “the leading organization bringing universal Jewish values to the media and mainstream culture.”

The ‘Second Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala’ is being held in New York City on Lag B’Omer, May 18.

2 Comments

  • I’m surprised the article did not mention that Sean Penn’s father was Jewish. So it’s not as if he has no connection to Jews. I think he is part of us, despite his mother not being Jewish. Perhaps his Yiddishe heart lead him to take heroic action.

    • Algemeiner Staff

      Indeed, that fact was not included because the author hadn’t known it, nor was it mentioned in the interview.

      But, Donna Levy is correct:

      According to Wikipedia:

      Penn was born in Los Angeles County, California,[2] the son of actor and director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan (née Annucci). His older brother is musician Michael Penn. His younger brother, actor Chris Penn, died in 2006. His paternal grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Lithuania and Russia,[3][4][5] while his mother is a Catholic of Irish and Italian descent.[5][6] Penn was raised in a secular home,[3] and attended Santa Monica High School.[7] He began making short films with some of his childhood friends, including actors Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, who lived near his home.[8]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sean_Penn

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →