Unholy act: Silver bandits fleece shuls of $400 shawls

The Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin orthodox synagogue in Midwood recently changed its alcohol policy to deal with the “shul-hopping” youth that were crashing parties there — and ending up in the hospital.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A streak of synagogue heists have Midwood residents praying for all the wrong reasons.

At least four neighborhood Jewish houses of worship have had silver-laden shawls used in religious ceremonies swiped from unsuspecting congregants who say they’ve left the expensive ceremonial fabric there for years without trouble.

Now members of the Flatbush Shomrim Patrol, the volunteer neighborhood security force, says it wants to crack down on the problem before it becomes an epidemic.

“We must stop these thieves in their tracks,” said Chaim Deutsch, founder of the Flatbush Shomrim. “We urge the community to be on alert, and report all such crimes and suspicious activity.”

The garments, called ataras, are part of the shawl that observant Jews envelop themselves in when they go to pray, but the rows of silver embedded in the mantles make them attractive to thieves, who have burglarized synagogues looking for the $400 shawls, which are usually not kept locked up. The crooks remove the precious metals inside the shawls and leave the cloth behind.

The thefts were puzzling to Izzy Kirzner, whose atara was stolen from his shul on the corner of Avenue L and E. 22nd Street.

“I’ve been leaving it in the synagogue for nearly 28 years,” he said, attributing the crime to someone familiar with the synagogue’s interior operations.

The worshipper said an inside job wouldn’t surprise him because of the lax security in temples, making the ataras — typically gifted to a groom by his bride’s parents — an easy target.

“There’s all different types of people that come and go to synagogues,” Kirzner added. “Some are wacky and some are not trustworthy.”

The 70th Precinct didn’t respond to calls for a comment.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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