Sean Penn is set to receive the honor at This World: The Values Network’s annual dinner May 18 at New York’s Cipriani. The organization is helmed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who singled Penn out for his above-and-beyond efforts to help free Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn imprisoned in Bolivia.
“One of the highest Jewish values is to rescue a person from imprisonment,” Boteach told 6NoBacon.
While the former rabbi to Michael Jackson admits to disagreeing with the left-leaning Penn on most issues, he was amazed by the actor’s commitment to the Ostreicher case. “You never judge a man by his views, you judge him by his actions,” he said.
Ostreicher was in Bolivia in 2011 working on a rice-growing venture he’d invested in when he was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. He was also accused of doing business with drug traffickers. No proof was ever provided in court. The father of five was held in what has been described as a squalid, inhumane prison for 18 months before being placed under house arrest. According to The New York Times, Penn had a hand in the transfer.
Penn’s involvement in the case made headlines in May, when he spoke at a congressional hearing intended to pressure Bolivia to release Ostreicher. In December, Ostreicher finally escaped, thanks to what Penn called a “humanitarian operation” that moved Ostreicher across the border into Peru. Penn, who was reportedly part of the operation, remained by Ostreicher’s side upon his return to the U.S.
“Penn had no obligation to risk his life for Ostreicher,” said Boteach. “I’d like to think he was moved by the simplest of reasons – to save another human being in need.”
A statement from Rabbi Schmuley Boteach reads: “Sean Penn not only electrified the world by saving the life of Ostreicher (which he did by sneaking him out of Bolivia at considerable personal risk). He has also remained in close contact with Ostreicher and is extending himself significantly to help him rebuild his life back in the United States after such a horrifying ordeal.
“We are honoring Sean Penn because, as an organization that promotes universal Jewish values, he has achieved what few other Hollywood superstars have done before him, namely, demonstrate that the highest goal of celebrity is saving human lives.
“Fame is nothing but a tool, a megaphone to the world, the locus of immense attraction which, when shined on the helpless, can call the world’s attention toward reversing the plight of the suffering masses.”
Boteach noted that despite his “ideological and political differences with Penn, and my objection to those meetings, pale beside my awe at the number of lives he has saved, the degree of his commitment to the world’s most desperate people, and the example he shows to a nation obsessed with celebrity of how fame must be utilized for good.”.
Joining Penn as co-honorees at this year’s event will be Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ambassador Ron Dermer of Israel. In addition, John Prendergast, the anti-genocide campaigner and served as Under Secretary of State for Africa under Bill Clinton, and Bret Stephens, who won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished commentary, will also be honorees. The hosts for the dinner are the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropists, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, and Birthright Israel co-founders, Judy and Michael Steinhardt.