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May 31, 2013

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 31, 2013 By Suzanne Pollak Washington Jewish Week Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox father of five who remains under house arrest in Bolivia, does not believe he will ever be free and often unplugs his home phone because he is too depressed to speakwith his family, ac- cording to his wife, Miriam Ungar. He just can't see himself ever coming back to his home in Brooklyn, she said. "We all feel that. I really know they will never let him go," she said, adding that Bolivian officials "make up reasons" to detain Os- treicher indefinitely. "This could go on for life. I want him to come home." The Brooklyn man had a flooring business in New York. He invested money with a group of people involved in a rice-growing venture in Bolivia and was managing that business when he was arrested on suspicion of money laun- dering. He is accused of doing business with people involved in drug traffick- ing and money laundering, but no proof has ever been provided in court. "He's starting his third year. It was his third Sha- vuot that he missed, and there is no movement at all," Ungar said. Her husband is ill, suf- fering from what appears to be Parkinson's disease, but is too afraid to take Courtesy Miriam Ungar Jacob Ostreicher is de- spondent, his wife says, after spending nearly two years under house arrest in Bolivia. any medicine, fearing it's not the correct type or has expired, she said. May 20 marked Ostreich- er's 718th day of imprison- ment in Bolivia. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) spent the afternoon holding a congressional hearing that featured Academy Award- winning actor Sean Penn. "The record--including their testimonies--estab- lished that Mr. Ostreicher is innocent and is the victim of an elaborate, high-level government extortion ring that has fleeced approxi- mately $27 million worth of assets from the rice operation that he had been managing," Smith said. Twenty-seven prosecu- tors, judges and officials involved in Ostreicher's case now have charges lev- eled against them. Thirteen of them have been sent to Palmasola prison, where y will Ostreicher spent about a year-and-a-half, Smith said. Nine others are under house arrest and five are fugitives, he added. Penn, who along with his acting has gained fame for his left-leaning social activism in Venezuela and Haiti, said he has spoken to Bolivian President Evo Morales and believes that although he has the best of intentions, the judiciary is so corrupt in Bolivia that Morales can do nothing. Penn urged the Congress to write letters to the corporate sponsors of the Dakar Rally motorcycle race, which in 2014 for the first time will go through Bolivia. As the race is a huge moneymaker for the participating countries, Penn said pressure should be exerted on the sponsors to demand the release of Ostreicher, otherwise the race should be rerouted to avoid Bolivia, depriving the South American na- tion of money and positive publicity. This year's race included 1,200 hours of TV broad- casting for I billion viewers, according to its website. Some of its main sponsors include Total, Honda, Mi- chelin, Mitsubishi Motors and Red Bull. Host countries receive "hundreds of millions of dollars" from the race, Penn testified. Penn, who has traveled to Bolivia three times, where he met Morales, "and in him I found a man sincerely dedicated to his people and their economic and social development." The actor said he was "not only personally and thoroughly convinced of Mr. Ostreicher's innocence, but particularly alarmed by a consensus both among Bolivian officials that the unevidenced prosecution against Jacob Ostreicher was standard operating procedure in the funda- mentally corrupt Bolivian judiciary." Penn said Ostreicher's only crime was "to have brought a successful rice concession and well-paying jobs to Bolivia." Both Penn and Ungar said Ostreicher has lost a lot of weight and been the victim of violence by prison guards. Penn said the prison "receives a delivery of body bags to the front gate on a weekly basis and feeds its prisoners 18 cents worth of a mulchy broth twice daily from a trough." "As an actor, I have been in good movies and bad ones. I have never seen a worse movie, nor more arch-villainy on such a cari- caturish or humanly dia- bolical level as I witnessed in that courtroom," Penn said, referring to the time about five months ago when Ostreicher was removed from the prison and placed under house arrest. During the hearing, Smith said he would be reintroducing his bill, nick- named Jacob's Law, that would deny entry into the United States "to officials of any foreign government, including their immedi- ate family members," who are involved in failing to allow due process or are involved in any human rights violations against a jailed American. "While this bill works its way through the legislative process, my committee will continue to pursue every means possible to secure Mr. Ostreicher's safe return to his wife, children and 11 grandchildren," Smith said. Several other members of Congress spoke at the 80-minute hearing, in- cluding Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Eliot Engel (D- N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). "It's unfathomable that he continues to be held," Nadler said. "This is a man whose life has unfairly been put on hold while justice is denied to him day after day." The Bolivian government, he added, "must be made to understand that we will not stand by and simply accept the treatment that Mr. Ost- reicher has received to date." Several members of Os- treicher's family attended the hearing. They spoke af- terward of their sadness and Ostreicher's despondency. His daughter, Chaya Weinberger, said her father's mood "depends on the day." His grandchildren "are suffering," Ungar said. "They do not sleep at night. We are trying not to talk about Jacob because they don't sleep at night." Ungar said she has visited her husband in Bolivia, but is too afraid to return there. "I was advised by a law- yer" that a case was started against her because "I talked to a reporter on be- half of my husband" while in Bolivia, she said. In April 2012, Ungar was detained "for almost three hours. I've been afraid to go back since then." Penn also urged members of Congress to "release one or two" of the "Cuban Five," Cuban intelligence officers convicted in Florida of conspiracy to commit espio- nage, conspiracy to commit murder and other activities, in an effort to free Alan Gross, a Jewish-American contractor from Maryland. "The United States has to be the one to step up," Penn said. Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 and charged with crimes against the state. His family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in the island nation on a U.S. Agency for In- ternational Development contract to help its 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. By Dan Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California Taking classic '60s-era Jewish comedy albums and turning them into a modern- day musical? That's a pretty big matzah ball hanging out there. Nothing actor Jason Al- exander can't handle. Best known now and forever as George Costanza from "Seinfeld," he's been a man of the theater throughout his long career. Alexander directs "When You're In Love, the Whole World is Jewish," a new musical revue that was set for its Bay Area debut with a three-day run starting May 24 at San Francisco's Marines' Memorial Theatre. He is not only directing the show, he also co-wrote sections of the book and composed some of the music. It was a labor of love for the star, who grew up in Livings- ton, N.J., in the mid-1960s listening to the LPs "You Don't Have to Be Jewish" and "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish." A pastiche of Yiddish- inflected sketch comedy, the albums were the brainchild of Bob Booker and George Foster, who created them in the heyday of comedy albums, when comics like Bob Newhart sold millions of records. Booker and Foster also created the "First Fam- ily" albums, a pop culture phenomenon during the Kennedy era. "We had all of them. These were standards," Alexander recalls. "My parents were of the generation that sounded like the people on the album, so we had all of those--along with Alan Sherman and Jackie Mason. I remember Friedman & .man Excellence in Real Estate Call Jeffrey at 407-719-0135 Call Barbara at 407-222-6059 One Team. Twice the Knowledge, Service and Experience :::: DOORS Specializing in Winter Park and Maitland them extremely well and fondly." Featuring popular Jewish comic actors of the day-- such as Lou Jacobi, Betty Walker and Jack Gifford, the albums lovingly lampooned Jewish-American culture, all with a Lower East Side accent. Only one problem: When producers Danny Gold and Billy Riback first approached Alexander, they presented him with something rather Seinfeldian. A show about nothing. "Old Jews telling jokes," Alexander remembers. "I said, 'how is it a show?' What's the premise? There was none. "I didn't want this group of disconnected sketches to just sit there. There had to be connective tissue. So we manufactured the faintest of story lines." That story involves a Jewish man who brings a non-Jewish girl home to meet the parents and his congregation. "The show is the congregation educating her into the ways of our people," Alexander says. "It's paper thin, but it gives us lovely bookends." Alexander and his part- ners were fortunate that Booker was able to help them. They worked together to shape the material. "The one thing we prom- ised [Booker] is we would change nothing without Joel Daavid Jason Alexander a reason," Alexander says. "Nothing would be out of the feel of the original. So there's no cursing, no vulgarity, no sexuality. It's incredibly mild and sweet." The show had a trial run in Los Angeles earlier this year. It sold out and, according to Alexander, had audiences cheering. More than that, some in the seats called out the punch lines with the cast. Alexander did not cast himself in the show, but he could have. His musical the- ater credits include a lengthy turn co-starringwith Martin Short in the touring com- pany of Mel Brooks' "The Producers," as well as a 1989 Tony Award-winning role in "Jerome Robbins' Broadway." He also serves as artistic di- rector of Reprise! Broadway's Best, an L.A.-based musical theater company for which he has directed several shows. But of course he will never shake the association with "Seinfeld," the sitcom frequently cited as the best show in American television history. Alexander is well aware of the show's reputation, but he can't swear by it. He says he never watched the show and to date has seen only about 30 of the 180 episodes that ran from 1989 to 1998. "We didn't quite fully un- derstand how big the thing was while we were still doing it," he says. "We knew about our ratings, our salaries, the magazine covers, but there wasn't the attitude that we are all that and more. Jerry had the best description. He said we're like the world's biggest garage band. We're in the garage making a lot of noise." Alexander hopes his new show will make some noise on the theater circuit. He knows it's not for everyone, but he thinks it will especial- ly hit Jewish audiences where it counts: in the kishkes. "I love that you don't have to be religious or know Jewish history to enjoy the show," he says. "It celebrates the greatest thing about being Jewish: our ability to laugh both outwardly and inwardly at ourselves." Dan Pine is a staff writer forj. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, from which this article was re- printed by permission.