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...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.