Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Sean Penn: Hero

 

penn-ostreicherEver since a young Sean Penn starred in Taps and Fast Times at Ridgemont High he has evolved into a world class actor and director. I would consider myself a fan of his work.

His politics, however, not so much; I vehemently disagreed with his wartime attacks on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, his coziness with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Iraqi Minister Tariq Aziz (at the height of the Iraq War), his attacks on Britain’s involvement in the Falklands, his pro-Palestinian sentiments, and of course, the dust-up with his ex, Madonna… well okay, that I might understand.

There is also his recent naive sympathies and dangerous adventures into the world of “El Chapo,” the notorious Mexican cartel fugitive, which if you haven’t heard or read about, is altogether unbelievable.

The list of disagreements I have with Penn’s politics could be the subject of its own article. However, this is not that article.

There is another Sean Penn story. This is a story about Sean Penn, the hero.

I recalled the story from a couple of years ago, however. A friend from Toronto with direct knowledge of the situation shared with me the extreme lengths Sean Penn went to save another human’s life; the life of an American Orthodox Jew.

In December 2010, a 54-year-old entrepreneurial New Yorker, Jacob Ostreicher, watched his business fail. He was then given an opportunity to invest in an endeavor in Bolivia where he would oversee a rice production plant. He wouldn’t become rich from this deal, but he needed income, any income.

Six months later, in June 2011, he was arrested under “suspicion” of money laundering and supposedly being involved in a criminal organization. Even though the Bolivian authorities had no proof and filed no formal charges against Ostreicher, he served 18 months in the squalid and violent Palmasola Prison where he was beaten, bribed and became deathly ill.

The Aleph Institute is a foundation that helps incarcerated Jews worldwide and they soon learned of Ostreicher. Through their connections, they were introduced to Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg who they asked to reach out to Sean Penn due to him being famously close to leftist Latin American leaders. They hoped that at Penn’s request, Bolivian President Evo Morales would release Ostreicher. For whatever reason, Penn decided to help.

However, Morales didn’t act on Penn’s request. Ostreicher remained imprisoned.

Penn decided to invest his time and resources in helping Ostreicher any way he could. Frustrated with no results, he testified at a US Congressional hearing, repeatedly traveled to Bolivia to lobby the government, and made many visits to the infamous prison.

Sean Penn speaking at the congressional hearing in Washington on behalf of Jacob Ostreicher, who has been held on house arrest in Bolivia for nearly two years, May 20, 2013. (photo credit: Suzanne Pollak/JTA)

Said Ostreicher:

“I saw this man, not dressed in a suit and tie – Hollywood style, but rather like somebody ready for battle. He walked forward and gave me this firm handshake and said ‘Hi Jacob, my name is Sean Penn.’ I was less than 110 lbs. at the point, barely strong enough to hold my own body, and Sean’s first question was ‘when was the last time you saw a doctor?’ As the police watched on every move, Sean leaned in and whispered: ‘Jacob, don’t worry. Stay strong. Not only do I know that you’re innocent, but I’ve spoken and met with the president and they all know you’re innocent too.’ “

“That very same night, at 1:00 in the morning, Sean came back, this time with a doctor by his side and within 48 hours he had me transferred to the hospital. Over the next six months, Sean managed to [make] miracles happen. As my health started to recover, he traveled back and forth to Bolivia setting into motion a series of hearings that eventually exposed a national ring of corruption that resulted in the indictment and arrest of more than 28 high government officials. And eventually Sean managed to get me transferred from prison into house arrest.”

On his own dime, Penn personally fought the Bolivian laws and corruption. Since Ostreicher was held for 18 months without being charged, he was required to be released. He was freed from Palmasola in December 2012 at a hearing that was attended by Penn. However, by the time he was released, Ostreicher was very ill. A formerly heavyset man, he had become an emaciated 107 pounds. Adding to his troubles were the growing tremors he was dealing with as his Parkinson’s disease worsened with the poor treatment from his time imprisoned.

Although he was released from prison, he would be required to be under house arrest without the ability to leave Bolivia. Penn was frustrated, but vowed he wouldn’t abandon him.

What happened next has, for all accounts, remained mostly a secret.

Murky details from family and friends point to Penn and Ostreicher’s brother personally organizing his rescue from captivity. He was literally snatched from the prison-house in the middle of the night by “professionals,” placed in a van, transported to a chartered airplane, flown out of Santa Cruz, through La Paz and into the United States.

Sean Penn then secretly took him into his Los Angeles home to provide ongoing medical treatment, a fully stocked kosher kitchen and nutrition for weeks, while an embarrassed Bolivian government stated that the CIA took Ostreicher.

Said Jacob:

“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.’”

Penn sat and prayed with Ostreicher in synagogue and secretly brought friends into his home to assist him back to physical and mental health.

“I told Sean I’d like to find a person who had it all and lost it all to give me a reason that I should wake up every morning,” said Ostreicher.

Penn introduced him to Robert Downey Jr.

Downey, who hit bottom in the 1990s when drug addiction troubles landed him in jail for a year, counseled Ostreicher, then sent him clothing “literally in the tens of thousands of dollars” — Gucci suits, sweaters, sneakers, underwear, a Harry Winston watch.

The time served in the squalor of Palmasola affected him profoundly. In the two years since his escape, Ostreicher has not regained his former life. Unfortunately, he is now separated from his wife, and somewhat estranged from his New York-based family. He still lives in Los Angeles, penniless and supported by philanthropic causes and the Jewish community. It remains unspoken as to what happened to his once-close family dynamic.

While it is evident that he is a shell of the man he once was, Ostreicher is thankful to be alive and thanks Sean Penn for saving his life. One can only hope though therapy and rehabilitation he can one day achieve a sense of normalcy.

Penn had no obligation to Ostreicher or Aleph and it certainly wouldn’t be expected for him to devote so much of his time, energy, and resources to a stranger. There was no previous relationship. While it’s reported that Penn’s father may have distant Jewish family, that certainly doesn’t qualify as lineage.

Why would a person, any person, do what Penn did? It appears that Sean Penn simply saw someone who was suffering unjustly and thought he should help the only way he knew how. That is something we can all learn from.

For that, Sean Penn should be acknowledged and recognized as a hero.

Jacob Ostreicher in Los Angeles on December 15, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

There are 46 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member

    Thank you for sharing this :) Famous people do lots of bad things, and it’s all over the news. They deserve credit for the good things they do,too.

    • #1
    • January 20, 2016, at 3:30 AM PST
    • Like
  2. Paula Lynn Johnson Inactive

    I am gobsmacked. What a story!

    • #2
    • January 20, 2016, at 4:54 AM PST
    • 1 like
  3. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    Paula Lynn Johnson:I am gobsmacked. What a story!

    Ditto. Wish the world would celebrate the heroism of this type more.

    • #3
    • January 20, 2016, at 4:59 AM PST
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  4. BrentB67 Inactive

    Penn is a mystery. Thanks for the story.

    • #4
    • January 20, 2016, at 5:54 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wow. I had no idea.

    • #5
    • January 20, 2016, at 6:29 AM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Vance Richards Member
    Vance RichardsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Interesting story.

    David Sussman: Ever since a young Sean Penn starred in Taps and Fast Times at Ridgemont High he has evolved into a world class actor and director

    But as to this point, he will never top Jeff Spicoli.

    • #6
    • January 20, 2016, at 6:40 AM PST
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  7. Sandy Member

    Amazing story. It makes one think that his camaraderie with Stalinists comes from that old naivete that has drawn so many to the Left.

    • #7
    • January 20, 2016, at 6:58 AM PST
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  8. Kay of MT Member

    Nice to know he has committed some redeeming actions.

    • #8
    • January 20, 2016, at 7:08 AM PST
    • 1 like
  9. Judge Mental Member

    It’s been obvious several times that his intentions, at least, are sometimes in the right place. He was also one of the few people who kept going back to Haiti after the cameras were gone. It’s just that due to his father’s firing and being raised as, if not a completely authentic, dyed-in-the-wool red diaper baby, then something very close. It’s definitely left him with a skewed set of beliefs. And there is no doubt he can also be a giant jerk sometimes.

    • #9
    • January 20, 2016, at 7:13 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. RightAngles Member

    I’d never heard of any of this!

    • #10
    • January 20, 2016, at 8:38 AM PST
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  11. Martel Inactive

    Judge Mental:It’s been obvious several times that his intentions, at least, are sometimes in the right place. He was also one of the few people who kept going back to Haiti after the cameras were gone. It’s just that due to his father’s firing and being raised as, if not a completely authentic, dyed-in-the-wool red diaper baby, then something very close. It’s definitely left him with a skewed set of beliefs. And there is no doubt he can also be a giant jerk sometimes.

    I read a firsthand account by a Christian pastor who went to Haiti after all the international fuss died down, and he said Penn was personally coordinating all sorts of logistics and helping people out. It wasn’t glamorous work or photo-ops, it was stuff like trying to figure out how to get enough truck drivers to transport supplies and making sure the health workers had places to stay.

    • #11
    • January 20, 2016, at 10:40 AM PST
    • 1 like
  12. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Sandy:Amazing story. It makes one think that his camaraderie with Stalinists comes from that old naivete that has drawn so many to the Left.

    It has been said he had some Daddy issues, which lead him to his politics. Whatever we can all say about his relationships with tyrants, he seems to have a good heart.

    • #12
    • January 20, 2016, at 11:19 AM PST
    • Like
  13. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Judge Mental:It’s been obvious several times that his intentions, at least, are sometimes in the right place. He was also one of the few people who kept going back to Haiti after the cameras were gone. It’s just that due to his father’s firing and being raised as, if not a completely authentic, dyed-in-the-wool red diaper baby, then something very close. It’s definitely left him with a skewed set of beliefs. And there is no doubt he can also be a giant jerk sometimes.

    Agree JM. His work in Haiti should be lauded. Obviously he is a complicated man.

    • #13
    • January 20, 2016, at 11:21 AM PST
    • Like
  14. Kay of MT Member

    David Sussman:

    Sandy:Amazing story. It makes one think that his camaraderie with Stalinists comes from that old naivete that has drawn so many to the Left.

    It has been said he had some Daddy issues, which lead him to his politics. Whatever we can all say about his relationships with tyrants, he seems to have a good heart.

    Who knows? Maybe he is trying to change the tyrants into better people.

    • #14
    • January 20, 2016, at 11:31 AM PST
    • Like
  15. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    I should have added that Ostreicher is also a staunch conservative.

    When he presented Penn the “Champion of Jewish Justice Award’ (picture above) he stated:

    “This is not the story you expected to hear about the anti-American, Jew-hating, communist-loving Sean Penn.”

    “People who know me would say that I am to the right of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.”

    • #15
    • January 20, 2016, at 11:34 AM PST
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  16. Tuck Inactive

    Wow. Thanks for sharing. Glad to see this on the main feed, too.

    • #16
    • January 20, 2016, at 1:25 PM PST
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  17. Annefy Member

    I have always been conflicted about Sean Penn. Now even more so.

    I am a huge Jon Krakauer fan (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, Under The Banner of Heaven). I watched the movie Into The Wild fully expecting to hate it.

    And I loved it. Sean Penn handled a very complicated story about a very complicated individual with a deft touch. It would have been very easy to lionize the protagonist as just a free spirit too good for this world; instead SP managed to convey … not sure how to say this … that the self-centered little twit should have called his mother. On the other hand, the same individual managed to make an impression on lots of people with whom he crossed paths; he must have been an extraordinary person.

    So I’ve always been impressed by SP’s skills as an actor and a director; now as an individual too.

    Terrific story, David. Thanks for sharing.

    • #17
    • January 20, 2016, at 1:28 PM PST
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  18. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    I suppose that what this story proves is that Penn, no matter his faults, is essentially sincere in his beliefs and general concern for humanity, even if he is more often misdirected. I agree about his professional talents. He is a superb actor and director. Maybe, someday he will grow up and the best angels of his nature will begin to dominate his choices.

    • #18
    • January 20, 2016, at 1:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  19. Liz Member

    Thanks for sharing this, David. I am floored, and intrigued and encouraged.

    • #19
    • January 20, 2016, at 1:34 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  20. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’d like to join the chorus of thanks. It is so important to be reminded that people we sneer at are human, too, and that people aren’t as simple as our lazy brains would like us to believe. Thank you for an excellent article, for a prayer boost, and for making Ricochet a better place. The last is often true of you, but it seems particularly so here.

    • #20
    • January 20, 2016, at 1:56 PM PST
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  21. Valiuth Member
    ValiuthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    BrentB67:Penn is a mystery. Thanks for the story.

    He isn’t a mystery, he is a useful idiot. Useful idiots aren’t bad people they are good people who are so naive that bad people can take advantage of them.

    • #21
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:18 PM PST
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  22. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Annefy: I am a huge Jon Krakauer fan (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, Under The Banner of Heaven). I watched the movie Into The Wild fully expecting to hate it.

    ITW was captivating, between the excellent cast, the scenery and incredible score its a must see. Thanks Anne!

    • #22
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:19 PM PST
    • Like
  23. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    James Of England:I’d like to join the chorus of thanks. It is so important to be reminded that people we sneer at are human, too, and that people aren’t as simple as our lazy brains would like us to believe. Thank you for an excellent article, for a prayer boost, and for making Ricochet a better place. The last is often true of you, but it seems particularly so here.

    Thanks James!

    • #23
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:22 PM PST
    • Like
  24. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Valiuth:

    BrentB67:Penn is a mystery. Thanks for the story.

    He isn’t a mystery, he is a useful idiot. Useful idiots aren’t bad people they are good people who are so naive that bad people can take advantage of them.

    He’s a person. People are mysteries.

    • #24
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:22 PM PST
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  25. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Celebrities like Sean Penn are how murdering villains like Che Guevara become pop icons. He empowers tyrants, thieves, and hatemongers. Then he does something extraordinarly noble like this. Then he returns to empowering villains, I presume.

    It certainly underlines the indescribably complex nature of personalities. It was never my place to judge his soul. But a story like this makes one wonder how to deal with people who do terrible harm and yet might become surprise blessings.

    I have no need to consider Penn at all. But it is often necessary for us to estimate a person’s motives and likely behavior before deciding to incorporate or exclude that person from our activities. This story reminds us to be charitable in those estimations.

    • #25
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:44 PM PST
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  26. Kay of MT Member

    Aaron Miller: This story reminds us to be charitable in those estimations.

    I still wont go see anything that involves Mel Gibson.

    • #26
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:53 PM PST
    • 1 like
  27. Anuschka Inactive

    While I may not agree with him politically, I do not doubt his sincerity for a moment (or his talent).

    • #27
    • January 20, 2016, at 2:54 PM PST
    • 1 like
  28. Annefy Member

    Kay of MT:

    Aaron Miller: This story reminds us to be charitable in those estimations.

    I still wont go see anything that involves Mel Gibson.

    Mel is one guy I struggle with. I know people who have worked with and for him and others who have attended his church and they all have high praise for him personally.

    And his relationship with Robert Downey Jr (a favorite of mine) is nothing short of inspiring.

    Mel Gibson / Robert Downey Jr

    • #28
    • January 20, 2016, at 3:12 PM PST
    • 1 like
  29. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mel Gibson is probably my favorite living actor and seems to have been one of the kinder, more sensible people in Hollywood. His dark episode looks to be over.

    In any case, it takes much more than some drunken slurs and a bout of meanness to make me boycott an actor’s work. Most actors seem to do worse on a weekly basis. What terrible things must be said of Rob, I wonder, just for appearing on Fox News?

    • #29
    • January 20, 2016, at 3:56 PM PST
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  30. Dave Sussman Podcaster
    Dave Sussman

    Annefy:

    Kay of MT:

    Aaron Miller: This story reminds us to be charitable in those estimations.

    I still wont go see anything that involves Mel Gibson.

    Mel is one guy I struggle with. I know people who have worked with and for him and others who have attended his church and they all have high praise for him personally.

    And his relationship with Robert Downey Jr (a favorite of mine) is nothing short of inspiring.

    Mel Gibson / Robert Downey Jr

    Wow, I never saw that. My opinion of Mel is somewhat ambivalent knowing I am just lucky my inebriated words were never recorded. Good for RDJ.

    • #30
    • January 20, 2016, at 4:06 PM PST
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