Hasidic volunteers search 300 tons of garbage for lost tefillin, come up empty


(JTA) — Volunteers from a New York City Satmar synagogue have sifted through 300 tons of garbage at an upstate landfill to find a pair of tefillin that accidentally landed in a garbage can, but have yet to find the ritual object.

A special bag containing the phylacteries fell from a cubby last week in the synagogue located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, according to reports, including the Yeshiva World News. No one noticed at the time.

By the time  the discovery was made three days later, when community leadership viewed the surveillance camera footage from that hallway, the garbage had already been collected for the neighborhood and taken to the High Acres Landfill. A copy of the footage was posted on YouTube by Yeshiva World News.

The Waste Management company was able to isolate some 30 containers holding 3,000 tons of collected garbage that it thought might have the tefillin.

The community raised thousands of dollars to send volunteers to the landfill to sift through the garbage in the containers. One load at a time was dumped in a cordoned-off area and spread out for the volunteers. They searched through about half of the containers this week and plan to send more volunteers next week to finish the job, according to reports.

A set of tefillin — two leather boxes holding sacred scrolls, attached to leather straps to be bound around the head and arm — can cost anywhere from $200 to over $1,000. However, the sentimental value of an heirloom set is incalculable. Jewish law also demands that any sacred text be stored, and disposed of, respectfully.

Jeffrey Richardson, senior district manager for Waste Management, told the ABC affiliate in Rochester, that his staff would continue to search for the ritual object as well.

“We’re invested now,” said Richardson. “We want to find this.”

Recommended from JTA