By Jennifer Glickel
BATTERY PARK CITY — The Manhattan District Attorney’s office handed over two Torahs that were stolen nearly two decades ago to be donated to synagogues in Bulgaria and Serbia in a ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Tuesday.
District Attorneys Cy Vance Jr. reunited with his predecessor Robert Morgenthau formally gave the scrolls, which were stolen from Jewish sanctuaries throughout the city in the early 1990s, to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee at the Battery Park City ceremony.
The organization plans to send the scrolls to the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the Serbian capital Belgrade in time for Simchat Torah, next Thursday’s holiday celebrating the completion of the annual reading of the Torah and the beginning of a new cycle.
The Central Synagogue of Sofia will receive a scroll to replace those that were stolen from the sanctuary 10 years ago. The Torah being donated to the Belgrade Synagogue will be the congregation’s first kosher scroll to be used since the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
The scrolls were first stolen by silver thief Richard Stevens, who along with his Hasidic silversmith fence, were convicted in the burglaries of 10 Torahs between Sept. 1992 and April 1993.
"The fact that these Torahs possess DNA from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is incredibly gratifying," Morgenthau said.
"I’m confident that the communities of Belgrade and Sofia will appreciate this simcha when the reading of the Torah begins next week, perhaps in a way they never have before."
The Torahs will travel to their respective new homes with diplomats who are in New York for the U.N. General Assembly this week.
“In Proverbs 3:18, the Torah is referred to as a tree of life,” said Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann, who was involved in the case.
“These two Torahs will again become trees of life for Jewish communities around the world.”