A treasure trove of Jewish ritual objects and family heirlooms, buried for safety during the Holocaust, was restored, briefly, to its rightful owner this week.
Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, 90, the Hasidic rebbe of Klausenberg (Cluj), Romania, who now lives in Israel, was able to touch the Torah crowns, candlesticks and inscribed cutlery that were hidden underground by his family 49 years ago.
The rare and moving story was published by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.
The silver artifacts must have brought painfully mixed memories to the Klausenberger rebbe, who is now bedridden and barely speaks.
The objects had been buried by the rebbe’s son, Chaim Zvi, who was slaughtered, along with his mother, 10 brothers and sisters, by the Nazis soon afterward. Only the rebbe himself survived the concentration camps. He eventually remarried.
After the war, the Klausenberger rebbe settled in New York, and later in Union City, N.J., where he built up a new Hasidic court and yeshiva.
He founded Kiryat Zanz, near Netanya, in the early 1960s, one of the first such all-Hasidic quarters to be built in Israel, moving there himself in his old age.
The silver treasure was unearthed by chance, during construction work in Cluj, and turned over to local authorities.
They decided to house it in the town museum, where it was recently rediscovered by a Klausenberg Hasid, who immediately identified the pieces. The cutlery is inscribed with the names of the rebbe’s children; the ritual objects are family heirlooms which the rebbe brought with him when he moved from Poland to Romania.
The rebbe is a scion of the famous Hasidic dynasty of Zanz, founded by Rabbi Chaim Halberstam in the 19th century.
The Hasid who identified the pieces quickly contacted the rebbe’s family in Israel, who launched a delicate diplomatic effort to recover its property.
A Romanian-born member of the Netanya City Council, Miriam Ben-Elazar, who has wide contacts with Romanian political figures, was asked to go to Bucharest, and it was largely through her efforts that the trove was eventually loaned out for a week. It arrived in Israel early Sunday, accompanied by Romanian officials.
The collection, 83 pieces in all, will be on exhibit throughout this week behind bulletproof glass at the Galei Zanz Hotel in Netanya, after which it will be returned to the Cluj Museum. The Halberstam family and its Hasidic supporters intend to pursue efforts to recover permanent possession of the artifacts.