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A Tallis Comes Home    

  “Every so often I would advertise the lost tallis in various places, but to no avail”

The tallis my cousin Martin wears doesn’t look special; it’s standard issue and stored in a faded blue velvet bag. But at a recent bris in Manchester, England, he shared with me the story of how it came into his possession.

Before beginning his story, Martin opened the bag and pointed at a name printed in ink just under the zipper: Sydney Burton.

This was the man Martin knew as his grandfather. His biological grandfather had died before Martin was born, and his grandmother remarried Sydney Burton of Glasgow, Scotland. Grandpa Sydney passed away 25 years ago.

That would seem to explain how Martin inherited the tallis — but the route it took was a bit more roundabout than that.

A few weeks earlier, Rabbi Dovid Tugendhaft, rav of Beis Hamedrash Nishmas Yisroel in Hendon, London, posted a hashavas aveidah appeal on WhatsApp: Does anyone know Sydney Burton? I have his tallis.

Rabbi Tugendhaft then shared his part of the story. He told me that two years prior, a man found the tallis bag on the road in West Avenue in Hendon. His shul was the nearest one, so he brought it there. Although Rabbi Tugendhaft didn’t recognize the name written inside, he assured the man that the owner shouldn’t be too difficult to locate. He put the word out to other rabbanim in Hendon, but to his surprise, no one could help.

“Judging from the look of the tallis and its bag and from the name written inside, I assumed it belonged to an older Ashkenazi man,” Rabbi Tugendhaft explains. “I reached out to all the local Ashkenazi shuls, one by one.”

When that didn’t work, he tried the Sephardi shuls, but with no success.

“I put the tallis in my shtender — it was right in front of me at every tefillah I davened,” Rabbi Tugendhaft recounts. “Every so often I would advertise the lost tallis in various places, but to no avail.”

This went on for two years, until Rabbi Tugendhaft was ready to consign the tallis to the pile under the bimah, “generally a place of no return,” he says. After all, he had certainly done his hishtadlus. However, before taking that fateful step, he was determined to try one last time to locate the elusive Mr. Burton.

Rabbi Tugendhaft posted his WhatsApp message — and to his surprise, he got a reply that very day. It proved to be a false lead, but a short while later, someone contacted him and said he had a late great-uncle by that name, but it was unlikely to be the Sydney Burton the rabbi was looking for, as his great-uncle lived in faraway Glasgow, Scotland. He nevertheless promised to follow up with a relative of his who lived in Hendon, not far from the shul where the tallis had been sitting patiently for so long.

That relative was my cousin Martin. When Martin met up with Rabbi Tugendhaft and saw the tallis, he immediately recognized both the bag and his step-grandfather’s neat handwriting.

Martin isn’t quite sure how it got there, but he knows that when his parents moved from Glasgow to London, they brought Grandpa Sydney’s tallis along.

“My dad didn’t really need it, but it had too much sentimental value to leave behind,” Martin explains. And at some point, they must have lent it to a guest, who lost it, and no one realized it was missing because it was a spare.

Martin was thrilled to retrieve the tallis from Rabbi Tugendhaft — especially because he had inherited his step-grandfather’s Selichos the Elul after Sydney’s petirah. Martin mentioned to the rabbi what a devoted davener Mr. Burton had been, always savoring the words.

“Whenever we had to go somewhere, we were always waiting for Grandpa to finish davening,” Martin told him.

Something about that detail stuck in Rabbi Tugendhaft’s mind. A day or two after returning the tallis, Rabbi Tugendhaft felt a pressing need to ask Martin what his grandfather’s yahrtzeit was. Martin didn’t know.

“I urged him to find out the date,” Rabbi Tugendhaft says. “To his great surprise, Martin discovered the yahrtzeit was on the 29th of Tishrei — the very day I had returned the tallis to him.”

It is brought down that the neshamos of tzaddikim ascend to higher levels on their yahrtzeits. Maybe Grandpa Sydney took the opportunity to ask that his tallis also find an appropriate home.


L’illui nishmas Shaul Berel ben Elimelech


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 941)

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