Brooklyn, NY – More than a month after being robbed of dozens of antique seforim from his personal library, a Borough Park rabbi was reunited with the lost books, some of which were hundreds of years old.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2pGa1TZ), thieves broke into the 12th Avenue home of Rabbi Meir Rokeach, the Kozlover Rebbe, in the early morning hours of April 2nd. Bypassing the first floor synagogue and its valuable Sifrei Torah, thieves headed to the basement where they broke through a locked door and looted the library which contained seforim that had been passed down through the family for generations.
Initial NYPD reports had placed the number of stolen seforim at nine, but Assemblyman Dov Hikind said today that the actual number was more than ten times that amount.
“There were 96 books that were taken,” Hikind told VIN News. “We got back Five boxes of books today.”
Hikind said that there were many people involved in the effort to get the books back to their rightful owner, crediting the Boro Park Shmira community patrol, who worked hand in hand with police using video surveillance to identify the responsible parties.
That information led to a Borough Park man who spends considerable amounts of time in the Ukraine and eventually turned out to be the mastermind of the theft. Hikind said that shortly after the books were stolen, a caller from the Ukraine said that he could arrange to get all of the missing books back in exchange for $70,000.
“He actually sent us pictures of the books to show that he knew where they were,” said Hikind. “He told us that he wasn’t the one who had taken the books but that we could make us a deal on them.”
Once that offer was refused, the unnamed man attempted to sell the books to antique Judaica dealers in various locations including Moscow, Israel and Canada.
“There are people who collect these books and will spend fortunes on them,” said Hikind. “This individual tried to sell these books to dealers all over the world but since word had spread about the theft, no one was willing to buy them.”
Hikind said that he was unable to share most of the details of how the books were returned, but ultimately an arrangement was made where Rabbi Rokeach agreed not to press charges in exchange for the safe return of all of the books.
The stolen seforim were delivered to Rabbi Rokeach today and the Rokeach family was joined by members of the synagogue who joyfully welcomed the books back into the library.
“They were so genuinely happy,” said Hikind. “It was like they were marrying off their kids or welcoming a new baby into the family. The joy in that room was unbelievable.”
Prior to the robbery, Rabbi Rokeach had no security system in place to guard his valuables, an error that has now been remedied and Hikind used today’s events as a reminder to the public to make sure that their possessions are properly safeguarded.
“There is a lesson here for everyone,” said Hikind. “Everyone who can afford to should put up surveillance cameras, and everyone should be eager to share video footage with the police and local security patrols when necessary. As a community working together, we can better prevent crime.”