It is a tale of theft, recovery, and perhaps a deeper loss.
Last week, Congregation B’nai Jacob in Jersey City was the victim of theft — twice.
On Monday, August 22, someone broke into the caretaker’s apartment in the synagogue and stole two air conditioners, a refrigerator, and a television.
The next night, the criminal struck again. This time, two Torah scrolls were taken. So were the congregation’s silver Torah ornaments, valued at $50,000.
The silver ornaments were taken from the synagogue’s safe, in an office where the two Torah scrolls that were stolen had been stored. The Torah scrolls in the ark were not touched.
This might not seem an auspicious introduction to New Jersey for Rabbi Aaron Katz. Rabbi Katz is new to the congregation, where he started working on July 1. He came to Jersey City from Miami.
But, the rabbi said last week, “This showed me also how strong the community is, how strong we are, how we are looking forward to the future. What’s amazing is to see how the board of directors, how the members, how everyone is acting and collaborating.
“This tzuris makes us stronger,” he said, using the Yiddish word for trouble.
As it happened, it didn’t take all that long for the police to find the thief.
Not many people knew the password to the safe where the Torah ornaments were kept. And a security camera outside a nearby parking lot captured the picture of a suspect carrying the stolen items in the night.
Before the week was out, police arrested Thomas Dobles and charged him with the burglary.
Mr. Dobles had been the synagogue’s caretaker. The synagogue fired him on August 11.
Mr. Dobles, 39, began working as the caretaker last winter. He took over the job from his parents, who retired to Florida after working at the synagogue for 25 years.
“He was doing something incorrect in the property,” Rabbi Katz said, explaining the firing. “Then began the tzuris.”
Mr. Dobles had at least two run-ins with the law before the thefts from the synagogue.
In June, he was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon — a dagger — and with providing a false name to officers after being pulled over in Secaucus for obstructing traffic. In the early hours of August 12, he was arrested in Bayhead, in Ocean County, for outstanding warrants.
The two Torah scrolls have been recovered. It turns out that Mr. Dobles stashed them in the synagogue, locked in a cabinet, presumably waiting for his planned return. The silver Torah ornaments have not yet been found, however, though Rabbi Katz said the police still are investigating.
“It was an awful thing to happen,” Jane Canter of Jersey City, who recently stepped down as co-president of the synagogue, said. Ms. Canter was one of the “three ladies sitting on a bench with our babies in carriages and talking” back in 1959; that conversation, she said, led to the synagogue’s founding.
Were the thefts the biggest disaster in the synagogue’s 57 years?
Well, there was the day, after three years in a small house, when the congregation was going to dedicate its new building. Nine hundred people were expected that night. Ms. Canter was working in the synagogue that afternoon, helping with the preparation that morning, “and one of our members came in and said, ‘The president has been shot.’”
It was November 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“I still remember that day like it was yesterday,” Ms. Canter said. “That was a disaster, but not for our synagogue. It was a disaster for the world.”
The thefts, and the arrest of the synagogue’s former caretaker, hurt more than had the burglar been a stranger, even if his haul had included the same treasures.
“I remember him as a child, his mother walking him up the block to his school,” Ms. Canter said. “I never would have expected this, just never. He may have had some problems in his life, but I just never thought it would come to this.”
Ms. Canter said that after the first theft from the apartment, the synagogue “had all the exterior locks changed. Then he seemed to get in again.” It turned out that Mr. Dobles had climbed in through an exhaust fan on the roof over the kitchen.
“He knew our synagogue better than all of us,” she said.
“I sort of felt this guy needs a little money, a little income, and we’re a synagogue, we’ll do a mitzvah. We’ll give this guy a minimal job.
“I never thought he would do this. I was wrong. He’s just a no-goodnik.”