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Kenosha, WI - Stolen Torah Scrolls Returned After Mysterious Phone Call from Brooklyn, NY

Published on: July 27, 2010 08:21 AM
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Rabbi Tzali Wilschanski of Congregation B'nei Tzedek Chabad said Monday it wa a miracle that two scrolls stolen in 2008 were returned over the weekend. Rabbi Tzali Wilschanski of Congregation B’nei Tzedek Chabad said Monday it wa a miracle that two scrolls stolen in 2008 were returned over the weekend.

Kenosha, WI - Rabbi Tzali Wilschanski and his congregation at the B’nei Tzedek Chabad thought they would never see their two Torah scrolls again, but this weekend the sacred documents were returned.

Just as an air of mystery surrounded the case of the missing scrolls, which were stolen just days before the start of Passover in 2008, their return is equally baffling. However, Wilschanski said he isn’t focused on the mystery as much as he is in awe of the documents being returned.

“This is phenomenal. It’s a miracle,” Wilschanski said.

Ron Sanders, a member of the synagogue, received a phone call months ago from someone calling on a pay phone in Brooklyn, N.Y. The man told Sanders he dropped off the scrolls at an address listed on the synagogue’s website and then hung up. The address was the home of a man who did some work for Sanders. However, the man didn’t live at the south Chicago address anymore.

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“I asked him if he would go to his old address to pick them up, but the people that lived there weren’t home,” Sanders said. “He left a little note months ago, and they (current residents) just called Saturday night.”

Middle-of-the-night dropoff

The new residents said the package had been dropped off in the middle of the night. They didn’t realize what the package contained until they found the phone number on the note and called Sanders’ friend.

Now, the Torah scrolls and a Hebrew book are under lock and key.

The congregation had owned the two scrolls since the 1950s, and they were considered the heart of the synagogue.

“The Torah is the tenet of our religion. It’s a sacred article of our religion and was used continuously,” Wilschanski said.

For more than two years, Wilschanski had been borrowing a Torah from Milwaukee. Meanwhile the congregation worried if the person who took the scrolls was taking care of them properly.

“We keep it in a special cover. We hold it in a special closet, and we treat it with respect,” Wilschanski said. “To get it back is a sense of relief. Now we have what we need, but also in a spiritual sense we have our Torah back in the congregation and we feel this way because we feel a responsibility for it. With that said, someone went to a great deal of trouble stealing it, but they also went to a great deal of trouble returning it.”

Valuable scrolls are handwritten

Torah scrolls, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, are handwritten and take close to a year to write. When B’nei Tzedek Chabad’s scrolls were stolen, people from the community — Jews and non-Jews — donated money to get new scrolls and the synagogue had commissioned a scribe to write the scrolls, which are now almost complete.

“We didn’t expect to get it back, but the new one is practically done, and when we get it we had planned to make a celebration out of it,” Wilschanski said. “There was such an outpouring of support when they were stolen — morally and financially. This is coming full circle now ... and we are more than thrilled.”

While the congregation is thrilled to get the scrolls back, 20 new Torah books and a laptop are still missing.


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Read Comments (11)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jul 27, 2010 at 08:36 AM Anonymous Says:

There seems to be a sudden pattern of sifrei torah going missing and then being myteriously returned. Someone posted a suggestion last week that all seforim should be implanted with tracking chips like cars and even socks and underwear so if they are stolen the police can locate and recover them from the ganovim. A sefer torah has intrinsic value o most yidden beyond just the parchment and historical significance so they should be provided greater security.

2

 Jul 27, 2010 at 08:59 AM Anonymous Says:

Rabbi Shmuel Traube of Brooklyn, a highly respected sofer, has a unique invisible registration system that doesn't pasul the Torah. Most thieves don't know this but when they try to fence the Torah, they quickly find out and realize that they have to return it in some way.

3

 Jul 27, 2010 at 09:47 AM Anonymous Says:

Answer to #1. There is no tracking system that you can implant in a Torah. Unlike in movies, you cannot just put in a little tag and track it from GPS. You need to have a larger device with a battery that needs to be charged, and that's impossible on a Torah. Additionally, RFID is not an option either. Contrary to popular belief it cannot be tracked from more than several feet unless its a larger chip (like EZPASS) then it can work for up to 50 ft. Obviously this won't work

4

 Jul 27, 2010 at 11:02 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

Answer to #1. There is no tracking system that you can implant in a Torah. Unlike in movies, you cannot just put in a little tag and track it from GPS. You need to have a larger device with a battery that needs to be charged, and that's impossible on a Torah. Additionally, RFID is not an option either. Contrary to popular belief it cannot be tracked from more than several feet unless its a larger chip (like EZPASS) then it can work for up to 50 ft. Obviously this won't work

It would be better to have a small GPS device with a long-life battery attached than to risk having a sefer stolen. Neither is a good option, but the tracking system seems to be the better choice. There would be no need to adjust or even touch it during leining on shabbos and yom tov.

5

 Jul 27, 2010 at 11:06 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

There seems to be a sudden pattern of sifrei torah going missing and then being myteriously returned. Someone posted a suggestion last week that all seforim should be implanted with tracking chips like cars and even socks and underwear so if they are stolen the police can locate and recover them from the ganovim. A sefer torah has intrinsic value o most yidden beyond just the parchment and historical significance so they should be provided greater security.

muktzah?

6

 Jul 27, 2010 at 11:43 AM Anonymous Says:

their are certain ways of engraving unique personalized invisible watermarks and digits that would conform to halacha and be able to identify each individual scroll this would be invisible to the naked eye but under special lighting (as banks have to scan bills) would become visible and identify each torah scroll this can then be matched against a international registry for all stolen scrolls the price to pay would be small in comparison of purchasing a brand new scroll which start at 25k and up

7

 Jul 27, 2010 at 11:44 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Anonymous Says:

muktzah?

Erev.

8

 Jul 27, 2010 at 11:58 AM Anonymous Says:

why not lock them up?more precious than any jewlary or money.

9

 Jul 27, 2010 at 12:00 PM actual Jew Says:

stolen Torahs. nebach.
either Jews who know its worth or non Jews who hear that a Torah is worth money. very sad. but beautiful that Jewish and non Jewish communities rallied to Chabad.

10

 Jul 27, 2010 at 06:23 PM GB Jew Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

Answer to #1. There is no tracking system that you can implant in a Torah. Unlike in movies, you cannot just put in a little tag and track it from GPS. You need to have a larger device with a battery that needs to be charged, and that's impossible on a Torah. Additionally, RFID is not an option either. Contrary to popular belief it cannot be tracked from more than several feet unless its a larger chip (like EZPASS) then it can work for up to 50 ft. Obviously this won't work

There is no tracking system that you can implant in a Torah

Try SmartWater: http://www.smartwater.com/Video.aspx

All the sifrei torah in our shul are marked with the stuff.

11

 Jul 27, 2010 at 08:30 PM Anonymous Says:

each torah (actually part thereof) can be scanned and the unique id -- similar to the idea of a fingerprint -- saved on a computer file. If done, since it is handwritten & no 2 are alike, it can be properly identified when found. This is already being done. That is prob. why so many are returned after being stolen, as any buyer can track it down once it's in his hands and turn in the thief.

However, there's is no alarm or tracking device installed so as long as it's missing, the owners are more or less helpless.

12

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