Kew Gardens temple regains missing Torah

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Temple Ochel-Simcha Executive Director Jonathan...

By Jennifer Warren

A Torah believed to have been stolen from a Kew Gardens Hills synagogue May 27, the eve of the Jewish holiday Shavuos, was apparently borrowed and returned safely to the temple last Wednesday, police said.

Temple Ochel-Simcha Executive Director Jonathan Cohen said the scroll, valued at more than $30,000, was borrowed from the synagogue at 141-41 72nd Ave. by one of its members for a religious retreat in New Jersey.

“We got a phone call from one of our members,” Cohen said. “Another person in the community borrowed the Torah for a weekend retreat. He didn’t let anyone know,” he said.

The Torah had been donated by the borrower’s family 10 years earlier and the man believed he was entitled to use it, Cohen said. At the man’s request someone else went into the synagogue and removed it from the ark, Cohen said.

“His uncle was very upset with him,” Cohen said.

The synagogue chose not to press charges and to handle the matter internally, said Carmen Melendez, a police spokeswoman.

The timing of the Torah’s disappearance was especially upsetting to congregants because it vanished just hours before the start of Shavuos, a holiday devoted to studying the scroll.

Observant Jews traditionally celebrate Shavuos by staying awake all night on the first eve of the holiday poring over the ancient texts.

Congregants suspected last week the thief may have been someone familiar with the synagogue because the individual tampered with security cameras fixed on the ark, according to published reports.

Congregants also noted no forced entry, which also led them to believe it was someone familiar with the synagogue.

When the scroll was reported missing Sunday evening the police, with the aid of the synagogue’s congregation, began a citywide search, Cohen said.

“Police came, media came. For the next two days, police went around New Jersey. Everyone within the community was very supportive and looked for any clues around the area,” he said.

Cohen said members of the congregation looked even in trash bins. “We had no idea what happened. We were thinking maybe they threw it in the garbage somewhere.”

But ultimately, Cohen described the event as one that brought the community together.

“It really unified us just to see something like this could happen easily. It unified us behind one goal. Thank God it was found.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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