My Book Theft Accomplices Speak Out

You may think you have a story that's yours, and you go through life with all the details very clear in your mind. Then someone else shows up, years later, with a whole different spin. That's what happened with Books and Library revelations. [Also look at another "official" follow-up.]

After writing the original piece, I sent it to Arnold, a solicitor friend, to ask, if I revealed everything, may I be arrested the next time I fly into Sydney to visit my mother. He responded, no, go ahead. Statute of Limitations would have kicked in a while ago. When I presented him with the present piece, he said, "Sometimes you think you have things so clear in your mind, only to later find out it wasn't quite like what you had thought all along".

After I published my library piece, I sent a note to some of my co-conspirators including with a link to it. I received a couple of interesting responses. I hope I will receive a few more. While no-one has disputed my basic facts (and I do stand by them), a number things had happened of which I was completely unaware.

I always believed the project originated with the Hillel Rabbi, but didn't know how or why. After reading my article, the rabbi wrote, "There is one element missing in the story. Yossle called me with the idea, and I told him it was a crime — "unless you find somewhere in the building to hide them ..."

So it was Yossle!?

I subsequently received a long response from Yossle Bobker, the Yossle in my story. He seems happy that I wrote the chronicle. Here are his recollections [with my embellishments in square brackets].

Good to hear from you. It's been over 40 years? Interesting essay. Here's some background you may not know about. [Actually I was unaware of nearly all of what he writes — though there are a few details that I had forgotten.]

Rabbi Groner from Melbourne z'tl one day called [our] Rabbi Osher Abramson z'tl [in Sydney] and told him he heard the seforim [religious Jewish books] were going to a non-Jewish university and that Rav Abramson should do something about it.

Rav Abramson called me and told me to get involved. I called Rabbi Groner and he said that the Melbourne Yeshiva would be honored to house the library, pay for its upkeep, etc.

I called together several friends who I knew I could trust. I did call the [Hillel] Rabbi, who did caution me that stealing the books, my original idea, was a crime — but that only made me more determined.

I decided to do the theft on the Sunday of Marty's engagement so I could show up, sneak away, and come back in case I needed an alibi. [I'd forgotten about that — I remember turning up at Marty's very late in the afternoon when just about everyone except the family had already gone home.]

I had also just got engaged and my fiancee, Miriam from Melbourne, was with me at the party. I told her I'd be back in an hour. I didn't tell her what I was doing. She thought I was acting very strange. [I'm sure you were.]

A few weeks later, one Friday afternoon just before Shabbas, a detective from Bondi Police Station called my home and left a message that he wanted to speak to me. I wasn't home. [Yes I had forgotten this part of it. This certainly was the Friday following the Sunday of the theft and not a few weeks later. Ironically the cops rang Yossle at the same time Menachem was being interviewed, in silhouette, on the television news.] My parents imagined it must be something very bad and started crying. [Like my parents, Yossle's were Holocaust survivors and this is the last thing that this generation wanted for their children — involvement with the Law. As a side note, all of those involved in this project were second generation survivors.]

When I got home, I called Rav Abramson and asked him what to do? He said call them back. [Rabbi Abramson was a very practical man, really.] I called them and the detective said he knew I was involved because someone recognized me as the (anonymous) writer of an article published in The Jewish News explaining why we did what we did (at the time I was an occasional columnist and doing cartoons for them). [The Jewish News was published on Thursdays (so printed two days earlier) which fits in with my story that this all happening in the week immediately following our synagogue visit.]

They said there would be no charges because the Great Synagogue didn't want to press charges. (Rabbi Porush [chief rabbi of the Great Synagogue] knew me personally and would never have done anything to get me into trouble, and I'm sure that Rav Abramson and Rabbi Groner called him behind my back to make sure [a nice warm thought, but I do remember Rabbi Porush telling the secular press he would personally pay for our defence attorney. I assume he was worried about possible criminal charges]. The police related to it as an internal community prank and didn't want to get involved. They strongly suggested that the books be returned ASAP.

A few days later [after shabbat — I don't remember if it was Saturday night or Sunday morning], I called the secretary of the Great Synagogue and said I'd meet him there and show him where the books were. [It was 100 members of the three zionist youth movements, led by yours truly. That's because the secretary didn't accept Yossle's kind offer to show them where the books were. They responded, "You took them out of the library and you're going to return them to where they were".] He was not a happy camper. [I second that motion as an understatement — see my original article. He was an arrogant man.] I sent an (anonymous) box of beer bottles over to the detective at the Bondi Police Department. [The Australian way ;-)]

Several weeks later, Rabbi Abramson and Rabbi Groner officiated at my wedding and the three of us drank a L'Chayim [cheers, to life. I was at the wedding but I guess not at the special drink. Otherwise I may have known more already back then. Yossle, at a minimum you owe me a beer!] to a job well done. However, my wife's parents (and her close) friends were worried that their daughter was marrying an unscrupulous reckless gonef [thief]. We're still together 38.5 years later.

My only regret is not keeping the 16th century complete Shas [Talmud] and the original Josephus volumes for myself.

And all I wanted was the red ten volume Oxford English Dictionary — am I a dummy or something?

Menachem Kuchar, 15th August, 2008     14th Av, 5768    

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