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Her Portion

C. Rosenberg

“And grant us our portion in Your Torah.” To some, this request takes the shape of a specific mitzvah, selected and accepted as a life’s mission. Six women’s stories.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

And grant us our portion in Your Torah.” To some, this request is more than a general plea; it takes the shape of a specific mitzvah, selected and accepted as a life’s mission. Six women share reflections, connections, and stories on the specific mitzvos they have embraced with enthusiasm and love. Finders Seekers Hasheiv teshiveim le’achicha — You shall surely bring them back to your brother” (Devarim 22:1) Wallets, rings, watches, items of clothing — losing an item all too often means waving goodbye to something of monetary or sentimental value. 

But according to Yenty Holczler, founder of Hashavas Aveidah of New Square, this doesn’t have to be the case. She has 30 years of evidence to prove it. How did Yenty begin her enterprise? “When I was teaching, I collected all the ‘stuff’ I found lying around and put it out at teachers’ meetings and community parties to see if anyone could identify their owners. When I was able to reunite an item with its owner, I felt great!” Before long, Yenty’s small-scale venture progressed into a full-blown hashavas aveidah center. Ownerless items poured in from schools and yeshivos in New Square, local wedding halls, and a nearby clinic, Refuah Health Center. What happens to items that arrive at Yenty’s door? 

“The first thing we do is check for a name, address, or phone number, and then try to figure out how to get it back to the owner,” Yenty says. Her team of volunteer drivers delivers items locally; if the owner lives further afield, she’ll either leave the object with local family, or ship it to them. But there are numerous items without a phone number attached. Which is when Yenty begins to play sleuth. “We try to find other identifying details. If there’s a last name, we’ll get out the local phone book and start calling.… Often, we’ll hit upon someone who can refer us to a relative who is likely to own the object.” Just who is the we? “In the beginning, my children helped me. Now, I have three very efficient volunteers who help.” Yenty also uses other methods to identify owners. When a camera showed up, Yenty developed the pictures (this was pre-digital-camera days) and asked people who stopped by if they could identify people in the photos. Eventually, someone did, and the camera was returned to its grateful owner. On another occasion, Yenty traced the owner of a coat by means of a bank deposit slip found in one of the pockets. Items that cannot be traced to their owners are either placed in cartons labeled with the current month, or are hung on a coat rack with a dated label attached. Yenty explains: “After three months, we no longer have a halachic obligation to hold on to unidentifiable items, so we move it into the ‘Sales Room.’ Profits from the sales fund the gemach — though we are obligated to repay the owners of a sold item if they ever claim it.”

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