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.
“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.”
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.