Tucson synagogue donates to police after stolen objects recovered

Rabbi Yossie Shemtov (left) and Tucson Police detective Scott Ahlskog examine ritual items police recovered after a robbery at Congregation Young Israel-Chabad.

Congregation Young Israel-Chabad will be donating body armor to the Tucson Police Department in appreciation of detectives’ retrieval of some of the silver ornaments stolen from the synagogue on the night of Feb. 22.

The gift will be made through the Tucson Police Foundation’s “Adopt-a-Cop” program, using funds that were earmarked by a synagogue member as a reward for information about the missing pieces.

“We salute Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor and the entire department for their diligence and dedication in bringing this case to a swift close, although the financial loss has yet to be filled,” says Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin, associate rabbi of the congregation.

Upon receiving the announcement of the donation, the nonprofit Tucson Police Foundation tweeted: “Your contribution to Tucson Police Foundation Adopt A Cop is truly appreciated!”

“Our members were very distressed over this robbery because these items were more than just of value — they are sacred and served sacred purposes, and having them back was a relief for all of us,” says Ceitlin, who is also outreach director of Chabad Tucson.

The burglary was part of a string of recent thefts at houses of worship in Tucson that included the synagogue and several Catholic churches.

Bridget E. Baker, 55, and her son, Andrew W. Hoke, 29, were each charged on suspicion of trafficking in stolen property, third-degree burglary and criminal damage in the synagogue burglary, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

The estimated value of the items stolen from the synagogue was over $15,000. Part of the stolen property was found at a local pawn shop and returned, partially damaged.

The stolen items included a large silver crown that adorns the Torah, a single silver crown from a pair that covers the handles of a Torah scroll, a silver breastplate, a handcrafted silver tzedakah box and electronic equipment. The recovered pieces include the large silver crown, which was broken in half with scratches on its surface, the single handle crown and some smaller pieces that had originally been welded onto the silver breastplate, though the breastplate itself was not found.

“They’ll need to be repaired,” says Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, spiritual leader of the congregation and regional director of Chabad Tucson. “I wasn’t upset because at least the Torahs weren’t desecrated. And they were fine. This costs money but it’s replaceable.”

Ceitlin notes that the thieves took a small, 150-year-old Russian Torah out of the ark to see if they could break the silver coating from its handles. “Thankfully, they gave up on that idea because there’s not too much silver on it and instead took what was handy,” he says.

The synagogue launched a fundraising campaign to help fix the returned ornaments and put additional security measures in place. To donate, visit ChabadTucson.com/2916363.