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Ark of Triumph

Aharon Granot, Amsterdam

He was the lonely, last surviving Jew of a poor Romanian village, yet when he saw the old shul razed and the aron kodesh left on the street in the rain, he knew he had no choice but to enlist the help of the local priest. Would Dutch askan Reb Mottel Aharonson be able to extricate the holy box from a church attic and the grasp of a strong-willed cleric?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

His name was Frank, and he was an old Jew from a poor village in the Alba Iulia district of Transylvania. His visitors were representatives of a Christian charity organization, residents of Zealand in southern Holland, food packages in hand. Their organization adopted the Transylvanian village after the fall of the Iron Curtain, collecting both funds and nonperishable foods in their own city for the poor of Alba Iulia a thousand miles away, where they would go door to door with their charitable contributions. While the packages included flour, sugar, canned goods, salt, rice, and other staples and were a literal lifeline for the villagers, the benefactors’ first encounter with Frank was hesitant and cool. “We’ve brought you food,” they said. “Who are you?” he asked. “We’re from the Church.” “I don’t want to take charity from the Church,” he said flatly. “I’m a Jew. I’m here alone for decades already, trying to live as a Jew under the Communists. I won’t take anything from the Church.” But they persuaded him that they had no missionary intentions, only good will to support the needy. They also gave him a double-sized package because he was Jewish — a member of the nation that had been so horrifically decimated by the Nazis and the Communists in the subsequent years. From then on, every time they visited the town to distribute food packages, Frank received two. Over time, the Dutch representatives gained Frank’s trust, and after 17 years of food packages, he finally let them in on a secret. “Come to the village church with me,” he begged. “There’s something there I must show you.” The Dutch volunteers agreed. In the evening, when they finished distributing their food packages, they followed the old Jew to the church and climbed up to the attic. There, on the attic floor, was the last thing they expected to see in such a place: an ancient, intricately carved aron kodesh — waiting, it seemed, for someone to come and redeem it. “This aron kodesh belongs to the Jews,” the old man told his new confidants. “And I need you to help me return it to them.”

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