Six Stolen Tzefat Torah Scrolls
When residents and guests arrived at the the 200 year old Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in Tzefat, they were shocked to discover he doors open, the window bars cut and the ark empty.
Connection: Seasonal--first anniversary
Six Stolen Tzefat Torah Scrolls
Shortly before Lag b'Omer, on early Shabbat morning, 13 Iyar 5772 (May 5, 2012), Rabbi Gavriel Marzel, director of the Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue in the Old City of Tzefat, was shocked to discover that all six of the synagogue's Torah scrolls were missing. When he arrived onto the scene, the doors were open, the window bars had been cut and the ark was empty. The 160 year old shul, founded by followers of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad, was in the process of restoration around the time the Torah scrolls disappeared.
The theft occurred on Shabbat, and services were held at another location; a Torah scroll was lent by another congregation. The community urged additional psalms be read for the recovery of the scrolls, one of which was written in the memory of Chabad emissary to Tzfat since 1973 and founder of the present-day Chabad-Tzefat community, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan, ob'm, who passed away in 1998. Another of the scrolls was commissioned by the Rapaport family in Canada, whose foundation paid for a renovation of the synagogue three years ago. A third was written in honor of the Jewish People and a fourth was written to honor the memory of Rabbi Marzel's father-in-law. The other two were on loan to the shul.
The thieves also broke into the private lockers of the shul's congregants. They took out pairs of tefilin and put them into a pile, but then for some unknown reason decided to leave them inside the shul. Before they left, the thieves wrapped the Torahs in the shul's Shabbos tablecloths.
Every Shabbos, more than 100 Chabad Chassidim and other local residents daven at the shul.
"When we saw that the Ark of Holiness had been broken into, we all burst into tears," said Rabbi Gavriel Marzel, the Shul's director since 1979. "We were so shocked that we couldn't believe what had happened. Then we calmed down, especially after a police officer promised that they would do everything in their power to catch the thieves."
The police sent a non-Jewish officer to the shul immediately to write up the first report. Sunday, a team arrived to conduct a full investigation, and Tzefat detectives launched a nationwide investigation concerning the whereabouts of the scrolls.
"Temporarily, we have borrowed a Torah scroll from a nearby shul but of course we hope and pray that they will soon find ours," said Rabbi Marzel.
Prayers and efforts were answered one week later (Sunday, May 13) when three
young religious Tzefat boys, who were playing close to a cave-like abandoned
stone house spotted inside a pile covered with white linen tablecloths, and
by peeking underneath one of the cloths realized they had found the missing
six Torah scrolls.
The three pre-teen heroes belong to three families of American olim (immigrants to Israel), Ravitch, Kopp and Erdstein, who were living in Tzefat at the time.
Police were immediately called to begin an investigation and take fingerprints.
The Torahs were in decent condition and unharmed. A special ceremony took place the next day to celebrate the recovery and the joyous news that the scrolls would be back in place in time for Shavuot, the Jewish holiday commemorating the original giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. During it, Rabbi Marzel, the mayor of Tzefat and other religious and community leaders addressed a crowd of 800 who danced with the Torah scrolls and celebrated their safe return.
Connection: The first anniversary of the theft, 13 Iyar, occurs this week, on Tuesday.
"We know that from darkness comes the greatest light," said Marzel, "and that the anniversary of the Temples' destruction will one day become the most joyous day on the calendar. Similarly, our Torah scrolls' theft and recovery brought about the birth of another synagogue."
The Torahs had been discovered missing on May 5, sparking a nationwide recovery effort. They were found several days later in an abandoned house.
A ceremony celebrating the arrival of the police station's Torah
scroll took place on Monday. The dancing entourage included Safed Police Chief
Ofer Kotrovich and about 20 other officers.
Marzel credited a young volunteer officer working with the force as part of his tour of duty in the Israeli National Service with the idea for the new synagogue.
* Except the first paragraph
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