Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Monticello Welcomes Back Stolen Torah's
The spiritual center of the Landfield Avenue Synagogue returned home Tuesday as a crowd of jubilant members and supporters carried the congregation's once-stolen Torah from the Monticello police station to the synagogue.
Police Chief Doug Solomon opened the station's door at about 5:15 p.m. to hand the $35,000 scroll to Landfield Rabbi Ben-Zion Chanowitz. The exchange set off a 30-minute celebration of dancing and singing as the scroll was walked back to Landfield.
“Thank God almighty that he chose that the Torah shall dwell back with us,” Chanowitz said.
The procession represented a victory for the congregation's members. Many suffered weeks of anguish after the Torah was stolen between the evening of Dec. 30 and the following morning.
It was Chanowitz who arrived at about 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 to find his office and the synagogue secretary's office tossed, with $200 in charity money missing.
Someone also made off with the congregation's Torah, which was purchased a decade ago following a yearlong fundraising campaign.
“In my career, I've dealt with crime and criminals,” said retired county Judge Burt Ledina, a decades-long member of Landfield.
“But this had a personal effect.”
Ledina was among more than 50 people who accompanied the Torah on its journey up Broadway to Bank Street, then on to the synagogue at the corner of North Street and Landfield Avenue.
The lively procession included local officials and students from Yeshiva Zichron Mayir in Mountaindale. All passed the Sullivan County Jail, where Woodridge resident Christopher Colvill is being held in connection with the theft.
Colvill, 41, was arrested Jan. 24 in possession of the Torah; police charged him with third-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
He had worked on several repair projects at the synagogue, Chanowitz said. Colvill had also been an early suspect police had sought for weeks to question.
The Torah had remained in police possession after the arrest. On Tuesday, David Kaufman — joined by his son, Steven Kaufman, and nephew David Kaufman — helped carry it into the synagogue.
Money left by David Kaufman's late parents, Minnie and Abraham Kaufman, funded a large portion of the cost of having the Torah handwritten in Israel.
Speaking as it was returned to one of three Holy Arks in the synagogue, David Kaufman recalled helping carry the newly finished Torah into Landfield when it was delivered in 1997.
“This is even a greater meaning to me because it isn't just any Torah,” said Kaufman, 82. “This is one that belongs here.”
Marching along with the procession was Samuel Encarnacion, the imam for the Masjid Ahlis Sunnah Islamic Center in Liberty.
He wanted to show his support for Landfield and the importance of sacred texts of all religions, Encarnacion said.
“All scriptures, no matter where they are from, have a certain degree of sanctity,” he said. “That has to be respected.”