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Jewish Residents of NYC Search Local Landfill For Lost Religious Artifacts

You know what they say: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And in this case, that treasure is of the ancient variety.

Recently, a Perinton landfill became the unlikely setting of a religious quest. Members of a New York City synagogue descended upon the dumping ground in order to search for some missing artifacts important to the Jewish faith.

While the average person is wearing about four leather products at any given moment, the use of leather goes far beyond fashion for those in the Jewish community. Tefillin, also known as phylacteries, are sets of leather boxes containing verses from the Torah on parchment paper. These boxes are worn by Jewish males during weekday morning prayers.

Two sets of these tefillin, held in a clear plastic bag, accidentally fell into a trash bin at the synagogue. The incident was caught on video surveillance. When one temple member thought the items might have mistakenly fallen into the garbage, Rabbi David Niederman got in touch with the New York City Sanitation Department.

And so, the religious scrolls began their long journey to upstate New York. A Waste Management transfer station told Rabbi Niederman that the tefillin were likely to be heading for High Acres Landfill. The landfill straddles the border between Perinton and Macedon.

Members of the synagogue wasted no time in searching for the scripture scrolls. The Brooklyn Hasidic Jewish community raised $25,000 to fund their search efforts, and around 20 volunteers came to the Rochester area to search. They even provided their own Tyvek suits and masks.

The workers at High Acres contributed to the efforts by helping to spread the garbage — a total of nearly 640 tons of trash — in thin layers. Members from the Jewish community then combed through it with rakes.

Rabbi Niederman was quoted as saying, “I’m so grateful that Waste Management is going out of the way to respect the holy scripture and the community trying to search for it.” He added that the synagogue is “so proud that we have so many people who voluntarily left their homes, went away from family, and gave up work in order to locate those tafillin.”

When Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren heard about the search, she offered to send officers and dogs from the Rochester Police Department to help.

But unfortunately, the search has thus far proved unsuccessful. Community members left the area, but plan to come back to search through the 16 containers they weren’t able to search.

Although one man is missing a portion of his daily prayers, the congregation remains hopeful that they will be able to locate the tefillin upon their return to the Rochester area.