Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Orthodox Jewish Captive Jacob Ostreicher Reveals How Sean Penn Nursed Him Back to Health in His Own Home

May 21, 2014 11:52 am 26 comments

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.'”

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.


  • 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.

  • 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

    • 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).

    • 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.

  • 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……??

  • Martin Bookspan

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

  • 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.

    • 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”.

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

    • 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.

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

  • 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!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Was Shia LaBeouf’s performance art piece at Manhattan’s Angelica Film Center (where he spent three days watching his own films) a sign of madness or genius? Judging from the lines and the fans, it was the latter. Shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, approximately 140 people were on line for the last day of the live-streamed event at Angelica Film Center. Fans who waited were happy to give their opinions. “I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Elliot Quartz, an 18-year-old student at the New School, who waited […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Eden Pearlstein freely admits that he has an addiction. But his brings people up instead of bringing them down. “I am a chronic collaborator,” says Pearlstein, a 35-year-old rapper who goes by the moniker of Eprhyme, and has released several solo albums. “Deeper and Higher” — his new album — is a collaboration with Shir Yakov Feit, who co-writes the songs and music. The friends and fellow artists both explore the relationship between man and God, and the benefit and emotional weight of introspection. With lyrics in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic, the artists stress […]

    Read more →