New York – Missing Tallis Bag Leads Brooklyn Men To Rochester Landfill Where Teamwork And Volunteerism Are Part Of Massive Search


    New York – It was a day that should have been like any other.

    A Williamsburg man in his mid thirties placed his fully loaded tallis bag containing his tallis and two pairs of tefillin into a storage cubby at the Brooklyn Satmar Lee Gardens synagogue on Lorimer Street. What happened next seems impossible to comprehend.

    The bag, which contained the man’s bar mitzvah tefillin, as well as his chosson tallis, somehow found itself stuffed into an already crowded portion of the storage wooden unit. Protruding the way it was from the cubby, it was only a matter of time before the laws of gravity took over and surveillance video at the synagogue captured images of the bag falling out of the cubby and landing directly in an adjacent trash can, without anyone noticing.

    Once someone thought to review the synagogue’s security footage, the mystery of how the tallis bag had disappeared was solved and the next chapter of the story began to unfold: locating the missing items.

    The New York City Department of Sanitation and Councilman Stephen Levin both got involved in the hunt for the missing tallis bag. Eventually it was determined that it was in one of 32 containers that were being shipped to Waste Management’s Fairport landfill, located southeast of Rochester.

    By Monday morning a group of 30 volunteers from Brooklyn had traveled more than 300 miles to Rochester and were ready to start searching through an ocean of garbage, aided by 40 temporary workers.

    Officials at Waste Management pulled all 32 container loads that had arrived from the area and gave the group a location where they could search through the trash, one container load at a time.

    By Tuesday night the group had searched through 16 containers of refuse without finding the missing tallis bag. With inclement weather forecast for Wednesday the men, who hadn’t expected to be in Rochester for more than a day, made the decision to head home and plot their next move.

    According to Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the original plan had been for the group to return to Rochester next week, but the idea of having someone’s tallis and tefillin laying in a garbage dump was too horrifying to contemplate.
    Rochester Police helping with their K-9 Unit
    “When the people left on Tuesday they were heartbroken,” Rabbi Niederman told VIN News. “People jumped in and said that they couldn’t wait till next week, knowing that these tefillin were just laying there in the garbage.”

    From a purely halachic perspective, Rabbi Yair Hoffman noted that there is no obligation to rescue the missing tallis and tefillin, while it is certainly a praiseworthy to make the effort to retrieve them from the landfill.

    This morning a group of 15 volunteers were back to resume their search, accompanied by 50 hired workers, according to volunteer Joel Stauber.

    “The teamwork here has been unbelievable,” said Stauber. “It was hard to see how the people at Waste Management were devastated when we left on Tuesday.”

    Nicole Fornof, a communications manager with Waste Management, said the facility is doing all that it can to aid in the search and is offering a $1000 reward to the person who finds the missing tallis bag, an amount that has been matched by a private donor from Brooklyn.
    Waste Management team with the volunteers coordinating the search
    Area residents have also been doing their part to aid in the search.

    “We’ve had folks from the local community reaching out and offering their help,” said Fornof. “We have also had people from other religious communities offering to do whatever they can, people offering hospitality and hotels offering accommodations. We have even had people walking in and asking if they can help search. There have been a lot of people who are willing to chip in.”

    Watching the search unfold has been an uplifting experience, said Fornof.

    “We are all very inspired by the dedication and to see how many people are coming through for them,” said Fornof “We just want to help in any way that we can.”

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    6 years ago

    I don’t wanna hear now Mi Keamachu Yisroiel, this effort is what Chazal call a ‘Chosid Shotah’, their is no mitzvah what’s so ever to do this.

    6 years ago

    Could anyone state a substantial halachic requarment to do this?! Are they just wasting time and money?! Taking donations?! I’m confused!!!!

    6 years ago

    Halevai all this time, effort and money would be dedicated to saving Jewish souls, not just scrolls, from the garbage dumps of the world.

    6 years ago

    I wouldn’t like, mine nor my children’s tefilin bag going astray, for 2 reasons, 1) because of KOVOID of it, 2) I have to work hard to earn a living, so kol hakavod, and yes MI K’AMCHA YISROEL, I raise my hat for you guys, keep up your amazing work, just wondering what would #1 & aqs #2 do if Chas v’sholom THEIR tefilin will be lost, would they just brush it off & buy a new one?

    6 years ago

    i think the $$$ they spent searching they could of bought this guy a new pair of tefilin and also for a dozen of kids who come from poor homes who dont have the money to buy them tfilin. i dont know the halachic ruling if this is a Mitzveh but its not the first pair of tefilin that gets lost . People loose it on airlines, stolen from their cars and many many stories.

    6 years ago

    They don’t really care,the garbage can that tfilin fell into is still next to the bookcase next to many pairs of tfilin waiting to fall in.

    Rabbi Yair Hoffman
    Rabbi Yair Hoffman(@pappabarabba)
    6 years ago

    Unfortunately, my quote was out of context. This was the original:

    “My personal thinking is that they should not have spent so much time and money in this effort. While it is laudatory to try and save sheimos on account of teh pasuk of los saasun kain lashem elokecha, there was much bitul Torah involved here, there was a lot of money spent here too, and the chances of recovery were not so likely in my opinion. When I spoke to the posaik who wrote the teshuvah on it, he told me that since they had made such a tumult about it, it would be a chilul hashem if they did not go up.. He agreed that five people could have gone up with a crew of workers hired to look. It didn’t turn out that way, but regardless – it is a mitzvah to help save a pair of tefillin – it is just that I think tzedaka money should go to other resources – there is so much tzaros in our community that diverting that much manpower and money should be allocated more responsibly. But still – mi ka’amcha yisroel.”

    6 years ago

    As the joke goes, you’re all right. I only wish that people would treat others the same way. All I see is that people are not carrying as much for their kids not parents and are letting strangers do the heavy lifting.

    6 years ago

    L’havdil, we have all read about valuables ending up in the trash & in landfills, and people sifting through disgusting stuff to find a wedding ring or grandma’s pearl brooch. Why is this any different? On the contrary, the kedusha here is worth everything. All you naysers… including Rabbi Hoffman… should think before you criticize. Yes, there are kids without Tefillin & other problems in our communities.But it is not your place to decide what act is worthwhile, or not. If the volunteers want to delve into filth to find holy artifacts, that is their choice. Not everything in this world needs a psak, or community permission…. or approbation from a writer.

    A guten Shabbos.