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Thursday, February 22, 2018

While I typically prefer to write the news instead of being featured in it, there are moments in life when your personal and professional lives intersect, which is exactly what happened in this story that zig zagged from the United Kingdom to Amsterdam to Teaneck to Ireland to Monsey to Zurich and beyond, ultimately reuniting a 17-year-old London teen with his lost bar mitzvah tefillin.

Nachum Tzvi Lobenstein was traveling from Manchester to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on December 25 when a gate attendant informed him that he would have to check his hand luggage instead of taking it with him on the plane. Lobenstein, whose family is of German descent and therefore wears a tallis despite being unmarried, was concerned that his checked baggage might be misplaced, prompting him to remove his tallis and tefillin from his bag so that he could carry the items with him on his flight for safekeeping.

But shortly after arriving in Amsterdam, Lobenstein realized he had neglected to take his tallis and tefillin with him when he got off the plane. Returning to the airport, he was told that his items had not been found and that the plane had returned directly to Manchester, according to Lobenstein’s brother, Barry Lobenstein, director of BML Office Solutions in London.

“We tried Manchester Airport who said they didn’t have it and we tried contacting the highest authorities at both airports hoping to find the tefillin,” Lobenstein told The Jewish Link.

Devastated by the loss, Nachum Tzvi Lobenstein continued calling the airport daily, each time hanging up disappointed, but as it turns out, good news was on the way, albeit through a rather circuitous route.

Teaneck resident Meylekh Viswanath was returning home from a trip to Ireland with an early-morning stopover in Amsterdam on January 14 when his life became unknowingly entangled with Lobenstein’s. Taking advantage of his waiting time at Schipol to daven Shacharis, Viswanath, a professor of finance at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, was approached by an airport worker who saw him wearing his tallis and tefillin.

“He came to me and told me that someone had left a bag similar to mine in the airport,” said Viswanath. “He asked if I would look at the bag to try and figure out whom it might belong to. I saw a name on the bag in Yiddish but no address. Still the presence of a Hebrew/English Artscroll siddur led me to believe the person may be American.”

After being told that the tallis and tefillin would be discarded in a week if the owner didn’t step forward, Viswanath asked for and received permission to take the items with him. While the name of the owner was clearly embroidered on the bag, Viswanath said that he wasn’t quite sure exactly how to read it.

“I couldn’t figure out if the name was Lobenstheyn, Labenshteyn, Loybenshteyn or indeed how that name might be written in English,” said Viswanath, who approached Rabbi Rothwachs of Congregation Beth Aaron for help tracking down the owner.

Rabbi Rothwachs approached several people in an effort to create some buzz about the lost items, including me, and having seen several instances of lost taleisim being returned to their rightful owners through social media I figured it was worth trying that route myself. It was 11 p.m. last Sunday night when I first had a chance to post a picture of the velvet tallis bag on Twitter and Facebook and asked for retweets and shares, hoping that someone would recognize the missing items as the ripple effect carried my posts across the web. Given the late hour, I wasn’t sure if my words would go far, but within a few minutes I saw a few retweets and had garnered comments from several Facebook friends.

Did I have any idea when I posted that picture that just five hours earlier Nachum Tzvi Lobenstein had visited with a rabbi in London known as the “Hashavas Aveida Rav,” who told him to put eight pounds in the pushka and with God’s help he would soon see results?

No, absolutely not.

Nor did I have any clue that while I was fast asleep in Monsey, my tweet had made its way to someone in Zurich who posted it to a WhatsApp group, where Barry Lobenstein saw it just two hours later.

“I called my father to tell him that it had been found,” said Lobenstein. “He was literally in tears. Something like this could only happen in the Yiddishe world.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. A quick morning check of my emails and Twitter yielded two messages from Barry Lobenstein. I put him in touch with Rabbi Rothwachs, who connected him with Viswanath, and as I write these words, arrangements are being made to get the tallis and tefillin back to London where they belong.

Like me, Rabbi Rothwachs and Viswanath are incredibly grateful to have been given an opportunity to play a part in this mitzvah and they share equally in the many brachos that Mrs. Lobenstein heaped on me when I had the privilege of speaking with her on the phone. More than just a feel-good story, the saga of the Lobenstein tefillin is an important reminder to us all that if each one of us takes just one minute to do our part, together we are capable of moving mountains, spanning oceans and, in this case, reuniting a young man in London with his beloved bar mitzvah tefillin.

By Sandy Eller

 Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at [email protected].