Illustration by Denis Shifrin

Act of kindness that put burglary into perspective

“Where are you?” came my wife, Amy’s voice, over the cell phone. She sounded concerned.  “On my way home. Should be about two minutes!”

“I think we've had a break-in. Front door is open.”

“Be careful!” I exclaimed. “I will be right home.”

I turned to my 14-year-old grandson and told him not to be concerned. Just because my heart had picked up a few extra beats, why should his. “I am sure the door wasn’t closed well.”

But that was not to be. It was 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, and we had been robbed. When I arrived home, my wife was already on the phone with the police.

The Bezeq lines outside the house had been cut, the alarm, internet and audiovisual lines in the entry-level electrical cabinet had been destroyed and the audiovisual cables and internet connection under the basement stairway chopped into many pieces.

My wife and I went through the house to see what had been taken. We had two safes in the house, one large and one smaller, both well hidden and anchored into the cement walls and marble floor. Both had been broken out of their cabinets and were gone.

There were drawers open in the area, and their contents scattered on the floor. Nothing else seemed to have been stolen. My wife's laptop computer was still on her desk; the computer in my study was lying on the floor.

We looked at each other in disbelief.

“I never thought the safes were at risk,” she cried.

An hour later the police came and made their report and the insurance people also came and did what they needed to do. When they left, it finally sunk in what had happened.

“You realize that all my jewelry from the last 53 years of our life together, including pieces from my mother, my grandmother and your grandmother were in the safe,” said my wife.

“I know. Plus money, documents, passports, back-up disks and written history and letters from our parents and relatives,” I replied. My anger was starting to build up.

“I don't understand how this could have happened?” exclaimed Amy. “The safes were cemented into the wall and floor and well hidden. We have a state-of-the-art alarm system with a backup system should the phone lines be cut. And the security company, Moked, is supposed to be monitoring our house when there is a break-in. They certainly show up when there is a false alarm! Where were they today when we had a real break-in?”

“I have no idea," I replied, “but we will certainly find out tomorrow!”

On Wednesday, repair people started sorting out what they had to do to fix the various systems. While they were doing “Their Thing”, there was a knock on the door and Shuki, from Moked, appeared.

“What happened?” Shuki exclaimed. “I heard you were robbed.”

“Don't you know?” I responded in a not too friendly tone. “You are our monitoring company. Where the hell were you?”

“When thieves cut the phone lines, we have no way of knowing,” he replied.

“Not good enough,” I said, holding back my temper as much as possible. “We have a back-up radio system and you should have had a signal. In fact, we have proof that the signal went out as it was supposed to do.”

“Well, we never got it. Probably the fault of the Motorola tower. Nothing we can do.”

“We will see about that,” I thought but didn't say anything at the time.

Our life went on. Workmen came and went. We cleaned up the mess left by the thieves. And I got angrier and angrier and found I was unable to function. Thursday was my 73rd birthday and I did not want to celebrate it at all.

Pesach was a week away and I said to Amy that I was not up to the holiday this year. This was supposed to be a joyous time when our entire family of 20 people were to be together for the week, and I wanted no part of it.

And then something happened. It was Friday morning, three days after the break-in. My cell phone rang and some man was speaking to me in Hebrew. Unfortunately, having made aliyah at the tender age of 55, even ulpan and private lessons couldn't get my brain to work in a foreign language.

I thought this caller was either a crank call or trying to raise money. So I simply hung up. He called back and I hung up a second time. And then, guess what? He called a third time. This time I caught the word, “mishtarah”, which I recognized as police. Now I suddenly became more interested. I called my daughter and asked her to call him and see what he wanted. Five minutes later she called back.

“His name is Abatte”, Lisa said. “He drives a bus in Rishon LeZion and he says he found your safe. He wants to meet you at 1:15 pm and take you to the safe. He cannot tell you where it is since it is hidden in some bushes and you would never find it.”

“I don't like this at all,” I responded. “Who knows who or what this person is and what he has in mind.”

So I called the police and told them what had just happened. It was suggested by the Rishon LeZion police that I come to their police station at 12:30 and they would assign two men to go with me for the meeting with Abatte. I decided I should take a Hebrew speaking friend with me, both for company, interpretation and protection. I needed Eliyahu Hanavi.

Just then the doorbell rang; not Eliyahu but our close friend, Ephraim, who was delivering our shmurah matzah for Seder night.

“What are you doing today?” I asked.

“Nothing important,” he answered. “Why do you ask?”

I relayed the call from Abatte and asked if he would go with me. He agreed immediately, and so at 12:15 pm we were at the Rishon LeZion police station. Shimon, the officer I had talked to, said they had checked Abatte out and he had been a bus driver for seven years and had no criminal history.

He suggested that Ephraim and I drive to the meeting, keep a cell phone open and they would stake out the area and follow us ... not what I had been told was going to happen. I would have preferred that they put someone in the car, but the fact that Abatte had no criminal record made me a bit more comfortable.

Off we went – the victim, the protector, an open cell phone, and the police, hopefully, somewhere in the area. We arrived at the meeting place as scheduled and two men approached. A black man, probably Ethiopian, Abatte, and his friend, Shmuel.

Abatte handed me some credit cards and asked, “Are these yours?”

“They are indeed,” I replied. Feeling a bit more comfortable, I let him direct us to where he had found the safe. I was still very worried and so as we drove and he gave me directions, I would repeat out loud, “OK! I should turn at the blue fence?”, so that the invisible police would know where we turned. We wound up in a large gravel area with a couple of older parked cars and he instructed me to stop by a footpath into the woods.

“We need to walk from here,” Abatte said.

Now I was starting to get frightened. My heart was beating well above my normal rate. I said, “Ephraim, ask him how he found the safe in such a deserted and secluded area?”

Abatte answered, “I am a runner and I often find things.”

“Why didn’t you call the police,” Ephraim asked?

“I have called them several times in the past but they never come, so this time I decided to try and contact the owner,” said Abatte.

“OK, I guess I am satisfied,” I said quietly to Ephraim, “Let's go find a safe.”

We walked for two minutes through the field and trees and lo and behold, there was the safe. It was lying face down on the ground. The back had been cut open and its contents removed. Papers, documents, keys, passports, checkbooks, credit cards and more were strewn all over the area. No cash or jewelry to be found.

“My friend and I are going to leave,” said Abatte. “I am happy that you have at least found some of your things.”

“Please wait a minute,” I said, and reaching into my pocket I handed Abatte NIS 400 as a thank you for what he had done.

“No! No! I don't want this,” he exclaimed.

“But I insist. You have done me a real service, and I want you to have it.”

He took the money and left. It was then that the police came running after him to question him some more.

“I think I had better go after them,”   said Ephraim, “and make certain they realize that Abatte was really just trying to help.”

A few minutes later the police returned, having let Abatte and his friend leave. I was instructed to take anything with my name and address or anything of value to me and leave the rest. I was also told to go to the police station and make a complete report of what had happened.

This brings us to the most important part of the story. While sitting at the station, waiting to make my report, my cell phone rang. It was Abatte.

“I am very upset about taking the money. That is not why I called you today and took you to the safe. I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

I answered, “I understand that. I just wanted to show my appreciation. I would like you to have the money, but if you feel uncomfortable about it, then please give it to a Tzedakah of your choice.”

He hung up, and it was at that moment that I realized my anger had left, and although I was still upset about being robbed, I was able to put everything in perspective and move on with life.

Amy and I had a relatively normal Shabbat, and Sunday morning started like every other Sunday morning. After morning prayers, I realized there was something that I had to do. I called my daughter and asked her to call Abatte.

Please tell him that his kindness got me over my anger and despondence, allowed us to enjoy the Shabbat, and allowed me to look forward to Pesach with our family all together in good health. She called him and he was very appreciative.

It is said in the Talmud, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” In a way Abatte saved my life, and so, his act of kindness saved my entire world. We should all follow his example.

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About the author

Lawrence Loewenthal

Lawrence Loewenthal, MD is a retired ophthalmologist from Michigan living in Raanana having made aliyah in 1996 with his wife Shirley. For 20 years he volunteered ...
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