Friday, July 04, 2014

Florida rabbi finds seven pairs of tefillin being sold in unclaimed airline baggage store in Alabama 

Rabbi Uri Pilichowski with the last mystery pair.

A Florida rabbi on vacation with his family visited a store that sells unclaimed airline baggage in Scottsboro, Ala., on Tuesday, looking for some cheap cell phones.

Instead, he made the religious discovery of a lifetime: seven pairs of tefillin, the small Scripture-filled boxes which observant Jews wrap around their arm and perch on their forehead during morning prayers.

“I was very surprised,” Rabbi Uri Pilichowski recalled.

The boxes, leather straps and carefully written scriptures inside are considered very holy items that must be buried in the ground when no longer usable, according to Jewish law. They can cost upwards of $1,000 and are typically stored in unique bags with the owner's name or Hebrew initial on it.

But the Unclaimed Baggage Center had no idea about their true worth and was selling each pair for $45.

"We bought them all," Pilichowski said.

He then posted photos of each bag on Facebook explaining that he was looking for their owners. Within hours the post had been shared nearly 2,000 times.

And he’s since returned six of the seven pairs, mailing four to their owners in New York.

Each bag its own story.

One had a tag inside with a last name that sounded familiar: Malka.

Years ago, Pilichowski went to a Passover charity camp in Ukraine with someone with that same last name. So he reached out to his old buddy, a Chabad Hasid living in Los Angeles.

"How many people have that last name?" he said.

It was an instant match.

"I was very, very shocked," Yossi Malka, 37, told the News, noting that the tefillin was a family heirloom.

His father, David, 58 who worked as a chef for the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, passed away due to pancreatic cancer in October.

But before he died, he bequeathed his cherished tefillin to his oldest grandson, Abie, who was soon to have his bar mitzvah.

A few months later, the pair got lost during a layover in Charlotte as the family was headed to visit family in Cancun, Mexico for Passover.

“At some point it was misplaced,” Malka remembered. “It was devastating. I did not want to share it with the rest of my family.”

He returned to Charlotte to search the airport’s lost and found, to no avail.

But he never thought the holy pair was lost forever.

He got a “loaner” pair from a charity group and waited, praying the original would be found and returned.

"I was excited like crazy," after getting the call. "It’s just amazing."


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