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May 21, 2014 11:52 am
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Orthodox Jewish Captive Jacob Ostreicher Reveals How Sean Penn Nursed Him Back to Health in His Own Home

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Jacob Ostreicher embraces Sean Penn.

Jacob Ostreicher, the Orthodox Jewish American who was held captive in Bolivia for three years, on Sunday revealed details for the first time on how actor Sean Penn helped bring him back to the U.S. last December and personally nursed him to mental and physical health.

“I spent two weeks rolled up in a fetal position in Sean’s house… and through it all, Sean sat with me for hours, sometimes sitting with me all night, rubbing my back, saying quietly, ‘Stay strong Jacob, give yourself some time,'” Ostreicher said in a speech at Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s This World: The Values Network’s Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, where Penn received the organization’s Champion of Jewish Justice Award.

“Who do you think was the first person I saw when I walked off that plane onto U.S. soil for the first time in three years? It was none other than Sean Penn with a team of immigration officials,” Ostreicher said. “Sean put me up in a five star hotel… and then brought me to his home and gave me a warm bath, stocked his refrigerator with kosher food and told me ‘Jacob, my house is your house.'”

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Penn also played a key role in the Jewish businessman’s actual escape from Bolivia.

Ostreicher, a Brooklyn native, traveled to Bolivia in December 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization. No formal charges were ever been brought against him but he was still imprisoned, and has always maintained his innocence.

Ostreicher and Penn have been tight lipped about the details of the escape, which at the time was described to The Algemeiner by a source as an “operation.” However, during his speech on Sunday, Ostreicher revealed that Venezuela provided assistance. He thanked the Venezuelan government  for “what I can really describe as a heroic demonstration of ‘bikur cholim’ [‘visiting the sick’]. If it wouldn’t be for the government of Venezuela, I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”

Penn also made Ostreicher’s health a priority when he visited the Jewish New Yorker in the notorious Bolivian prison in which he was held. When the actor met Ostreicher in Bolivia, the captive weighed less than a 110 pounds.

“Sean’s first question was, ‘When was the last time you saw a doctor?’ I told Sean that my lawyers have been working for the last six months to try to get me some medical attention,” Ostreicher said. “That very same night, at 1 in the morning, Sean came back but this time with a doctor by his side and within 48 hours, he had me transferred to a hospital.”

“I can’t get into all the details of the next year and a half or how difficult the road to freedom was, or how many times Sean saved my life, but suffice it to say he literally dropped everything for a fellow American halfway across the planet even to the point that Sean himself had to flee Bolivia,” Ostreicher explained.

Ostreicher said he was apprehensive about seeing his family when he first returned to the U.S., but Penn dragged him to see his daughter and grandchildren. During that first family meeting, Ostreicher said he stood beside Penn and told his grandchildren about the “very strong man who wasn’t afraid of anything” that helped him escape captivity.

Ostreicher told the audience on Sunday that the children looked to Penn and were “marveling at the superhero before them.”

“Was that the story you were all expecting to hear tonight? About this anti-American, Jew-hating, Israel-loving communist Sean Penn?” he concluded.

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  • Lorena

    I have heard all this problem in Bolivia. I am Bolivian and live in Bolivia. He literally came to Bolivia bringing in 50 million dollars to invest and live here….. the amount of money so huge got for sure a lot of people eager to get part of it….. Unfortunately in Bolivia corruption is huge, policemen are part of many robberies and other public officials invent that you “broke the law with something you did” just to get you paying him some money so that he leaves you in peace. This can go from a municipality official that tells that your house is bigger than in the official plans. It can be a lie but you dont want to get into the bureaucracy and then they ask blunt in your face a quantity of money they want to receive….. or a policeman that tells you directly pay me bs 50 and I will not put you a fine because you are parked in the incorrect place….Normally these persons go to people that have money, they search for them and for excuses to ask them bribes.
    My best guess is that the people in the bank and public officials that saw so much money in the account of this man…. money that was inimaginable until then. They got the money, divided it, put him in jail with the “we will investigate if all the money that you brought from US is legal” and let him there with the hope that he could die so nobody complains about the money that they were going to divide.
    The government here when Sean Penn arrived did not tell the population the real reason. They lied to us telling that Penn arrived to support our government for making legal coca leafs. A complete theater to hide what was going on. Here is also commented that the government collaborated Penn to make Ostreicher to flee the country so that they can end the problem and discussions on how to give back the money “no guy, nobody to complain”. So I feel that it is very shameful on my country all those things and I feel sorry for all that that man had to live.

  • raul lema

    no one is placed in jail for no reason Im sure that Jacob is a lier and he has broke the law big time, sean penn could be a good guy but im sure and positive that jacob is a lier he is hidding the true again no one gets involved in trouble for no reason he had colombian partners living in bolivia jacob is not honest god will show us the true someday

    • Duvid

      From an expat who fled the U.S. because this sort of thing happens 400 times DAILY in the United States! (Don’t refute until you look into whether it is true or not). Google ‘policing for profit’ and see. We are so glad Yankie (Jacob)is now free….Oh! By the way, did I tell you where we are? I fled to Bolivia with my family and have never felt safer from the creeping Fascism and Gestapo Police State America has become. The government here is small and underfunded and doesn’t have the resources to put cameras on every street corner and bust into houses with SWAT teams and shoot innocent, unarmed grandmothers (google ‘militarized police’). We expect it to get worse in the US than Nazi occupied Europe (chas v’sholom!). Hitler could only dream of having the powers of the NSA and DHS (google ‘operation paperclip’ for the source of this ‘gift’ of oppressive government).

    • Ken Clark

      Raul: First of all: You are wrong. In any Latin American country a foreign visitor does NOT have to break the law in order to become imprisoned. Secondly: You should either learn the English language, grow up or shut up. Your commentary and the manner in which you
      have expressed yourself is non-intelligent. I have spent considerable time in Mexico and have heard many things about their police and judiciary system which led me to believe, a long time ago that any Mexican official can be bought. It’s that simple. The War on Drugs in Mexico is a big joke at the expense of American taxpayers. Who knows how many millions of dollars of out taxpayers’ money has already found its way into the pockets of Mexican politicians on all levels – also judges, prosecutors, police chiefs and Army officers from the very top all the way down to the bottom. All of Latin America is like this, from what I’ve gathered. It is the nature of Latin Americans to play “La Mordita” – The Bite.

  • Chaim

    Wonderful story and a happy ending. This story has made me change my opinion about Sean Penn 180 degrees. What he did was truly heroic. Kol Hakavod to him!

  • On behalf of my beautiful country, the one that attracted Jacob, I offer our sincere apologies for what Mr. Ostreicher and family had to endure under the occasional Bolivian ochlocratic government.

  • Jack Aberamson

    In typical Shmully style I’m not surprised there is no mention of the Aleph orginazaton that was instrumental in getting Penn involved.

    Having a self promoting dinner where you can give out awards is a far cry from actually doing the work.

    Who should get the credit?

  • ,Michele Asher

    mamash a righteous gentile kol hakavod

  • Steven Kalka

    What Sean Penn did is more wonderful and beautiful than I can ever express. Though I’ve been critical of Sean Penn’s support for totalitarian governments in the past, I can only utter the utmost praise for this mitzvah.

  • This should make a great movie someday, starring……??

    • Joel

      Gabriel Byrne as Sean Penn
      Gary Sinise as Jakob Ostreicher

  • Martin Bookspan

    Why isn’t this heroic story emblazoned on the front pages of every American newspaper?

  • Ben Gruder

    Really interesting story. It shows how labels don’t tell the whole story. Venezuelan leadership is rabidly anti-US but came thru on the correct side in this case. And Sean Penn, considered by many to be the prototypical Hollywood “liberal’ showed really stepped up on behalf of an Orthodox Jew, rather than succumb to a stereotypical lazy “jews are privileged and don’t need help” soft bigotry. Maybe there’s hope for this planet.

    • jose

      You are really naive. Venezuela government “helped” Ostreicher because he was causing enough problems to the Bolivian government. Bolivians asked Venezuelans some help to get rid of Ostreicher from the country but they didn’t want to look weak to the world, the best solution was to say “he escaped”.

  • Lee

    Sean Penn has Jewish Grandparents and Great Grandparents who were Rabbis on his father’s side

  • Dr.Otero

    I knew your dad at UCLA back in the early 40’s. He would certainly be proud of you.

  • Dov

    So Sean was the one that saved him, while others ran to take credit for doing what? Nothing, but they took the credit anyway.

  • Abbushuki

    Sean: I shall forever revere your name. You are a model Tzadick.

  • Elisheva14

    Amazing and beautiful story.

  • Mel Sherwood

    It’s great that Penn did what he did but he has been a supporter of the socialist totalitarian regime of Venezuela which has persecuted the Jewish community there and which has been very openly hostile to Israel.
    Perhaps Sean convinced Maduro it would be good for Venezuela’s image if they’d help him get this guy out of the Bolivian jail.

    • Sonia Willats

      Perhaps he has feet of clay, as we all do. But if he has subsequently chosen to clad them with boots of pure gold, of love and compassion, and risk his own life as well, then let us see and acknowledge that.

    • James

      Although Sean supported these socialist governments, he finally realized that things are not the way they look like. Venezuela and Bolivia both use the shield of socialism when in fact their governments are corrupt as hell . What happened in Bolivia was that a team of corrupt District Attorneys decided to frame him of money laundering in order to extort and associate him with criminals involved in cocaine trafficking similar to the rampart scandal of LA. Anyway, he had been for quite a long time in jail with no clear charges and no trial. Luckily the corruption scandals were finally uncovered and most of these DA’s were finally jailed and all of them started ratting on each other eventually revealing that Jacob was framed to be subjected to extortion. I lived in Bolivia for almost 15 years and I realized that politicians are all liars as fuck and with no shame.Jacob’s case was known to the government but they preferred to stay quite as long as they get their cut from the DA?s extortion.

  • bunuel

    An amazing, exceptional, story. How come? What explains it?
    Bravo!

  • Emanuel

    Thank you, thank you thank you Sean Penn. A real hero, no fear and no retreat! Thank you for setting a superb example not just for Americans of Jewish descent but for all Americans; we don’t leave our own behind! Thank you!

    • Sonia Willats

      Yes, a wonderful story of genuine heroism and compassion.

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