Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
March 1, 2013 Issue
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Anya Tikka | Democrat

Rabbi Ben Zion Chanowitz addresses supporters at the rally for the return of the stolen Torah in Monticello’s Landfield Avenue Synagogue on Sunday. A prayer lead by the rabbi concluded the rally.

Torah theft unites community

By Anya Tikka
MONTICELLO — Community and religious leaders came together on Sunday at a rally for the stolen Torah held at the Monticello Landfield Avenue Synagogue.
About 120 people came to show their support for the community struggling to make sense out of the theft of the special Torah that was acquired not long ago with the money many in the congregation pitched in to purchase. The stolen Torah is valued at $35,000, and is probably headed for sale on the black market.
Monticello Village Police Chief Doug Solomon said they have no real suspects as such yet, but he added the investigation was moving every day. He declined to give any specifics in order not to give anything away that could impede the investigation.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this was intended to instill fear and send a message to the community,” said Chief Solomon, vowing to pursue the culprits until a successful conclusion.
He and the other leaders offered a truce several times to those responsible, saying that if they return the Torah, there would be no consequences and no punishment, and it could be returned anonymously in several locations if the Monticello synagogue was felt to be too well guarded.
However, Chief Solomon also had another message to the thieves, “If we catch you before you turn in the stolen Torah, I have a jail cell waiting for you.”
Many public officials had changed their schedules to be at the rally at a short notice to show their support and to wow over and over that such behavior would not be tolerated in the community.
Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins said, “I take this very personal and am outraged.” He said he lives a few blocks away, and continued that the growth of crime in the village would not be tolerated. “Enough is enough,” he said. “It’s a direct hit to everyone, to God itself,” he continued, pleading for anyone who knows who took the Torah to come forward. He added there will be no punishment.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther gave an impassioned speech that drew applause, saying her Baptist church was praying for the return of the Torah. “When such things are done to one of our friends, it has an impact on all of us,” she said.
Many of the speakers mentioned that the sanctity of religious places was violated, and that the freedom of religion is one of the cornerstones of the Constitution of the United States.
Sullivan County Legislator Alan Sorensen pledged his support and Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s representative Chris White spoke on his behalf because he had a hospital appointment and could not attend. “We share your outrage,” commented White.
A van full of high school students attending the Maimonides High School, led by Rabbi Israel Rubin, arrived from Albany to the rally to show their support. Their van parked outside the synagogue was painted with the words, “Return the Torah.”
Friends Rosalyn Weiner of Monticello and Rosemary Deitsch of Rock Hill came together to the rally. “It’s such a tragedy,” said Deitsch. “I feel outraged,” added Weiner.
Jamie Lambert came from Fallsburg to show her support, saying, “This is an affront against the entire community, not just the Jewish community. All the faiths have to get together and pray for the return of this Torah.”
Town of Thompson Supervisor Anthony B. Cellini joined others in condemning the outrage. “This is a sacred place of worship,” he said, acknowledging the Torah is probably intended for the black market. “It’s sacrosanct.”
The Monticello Police Department is working with the State police, Sheriff’s Department, and the DA’s Office to bring the investigation to a quick conclusion and to return the Torah.
When the religious rights of one group are violated, it affects the whole community, was the theme uniting many speakers, who also added that prayers are said in all places of worship of all faiths for the return of the Torah.

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