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

May 21, 2014 11:52 am 21 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.

21 Comments

  • 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.

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

  • 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!

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