Rabbi Noach Muroff, a ninth grade mesivta rebbi in the Yeshiva of New Haven, and his wife Esther made a massive kiddush Hashem recently. After buying a used desk for $150 on Craigslist, they found a treasure inside. But what they did next was truly remarkable. When the Muroffs brought the desk home, they realized it wouldn’t fit through the door by a fraction of an inch. The couple had to pull the desk apart and dismantle the file cabinets. Behind the drawers, they discovered a plastic bag filled with cash.
As Rabbi Muroff recalled, “We counted up and there’s $98,000 cash sitting in the bag. Right away my wife and I sort of looked at each other and said, “We can’t keep the money.”
They immediately picked up the phone and called the original owner, who was shocked and in tears. Patty had hidden her inheritance some years ago, and forgotten where she’d stashed the money. “You could have kept it and I would never have known,” she marveled. “I don’t know too many people who would have done what you’ve done.”
I tracked down a member of the warm, vibrant New Haven Yeshiva community, who gave me Reb Noach’s cell phone number. When I called, his wife, Esther, picked up, apologizing, saying her husband was on the phone with the BBC.
The story was definitely picking up steam.
A few minutes later, Rabbi and Mrs. Muroff graciously shared their perspective of the powerful story that has taken the world by storm.
Here is Rabbi and Mrs. Muroff’s account of the incident:
This actually occurred a couple of weeks before Rosh Hashonoh, but we kept it low-key, because we’re quiet people. We didn’t think what we did was so exceptional. We figured most people in our situation, who found a lot of cash and knew who it belonged to, would do the same thing.
The story begins when we found a used desk for sale locally, on the Internet. It was being sold by Patty, a middle-aged woman who lived nearby, for the great price of $150. We had been looking for a desk for a while and were very happy that we finally found a suitable bargain.
The next day we went to pick up the desk. The desk was beautiful and perfect for our needs. We schlepped the desk out of the car, through the front door, and up the stairs, and it fit without a problem.
The trouble began when we tried to get it through the door of the study. It almost fit – but was too wide by literally a fraction of an inch. We tried to squeeze, but the desk wouldn’t budge. So we figured we’d take the off the door’s hinges and get it in that way. For some reason, that didn’t work, either. And I’m glad it didn’t, boruch Hashem. Otherwise this story would never have happened, and the money would still be hidden.
We finally decided to take the desk apart and set it up again. I (Esther) took off the top of the desk, and tried loosen the file drawers underneath by pushing the tabs. Suddenly the whole thing came apart, and we noticed a bag wedged behind where the drawers were. We opened it and went, “Omigosh!”
The bag was stacked with neat piles of cash, wrapped with markings from a bank, all of them 100 dollar bills. We started counting and couldn’t believe our eyes. Ten thousand, twenty thousands, thirty, forty… all the way to 98,000. The tirchah turned into a brochah.
What was our first reaction? Shock, of course, but then right away we looked at each other and said, “We can’t keep the money.” That reaction was instinctive. It just… it wasn’t ours. And we knew it belonged to the desk’s previous owner. Patty said she had bought it in Staples and assembled it herself.
It was late at night, around 11:30 p.m., but we didn’t want to wait. We dialed her number and recorded the conversation on our phone. When we asked Patty if she was missing any money, because we found a bag of money in the desk. She became hysterical, crying and laughing, telling us it was her inheritance, a gift from her deceased parents. We agreed to return the following day.
That night, I (Noach) had a hard time falling asleep. I had no regrets about contacting the woman to return the money, but still, I wanted to hear from my rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel that I’d done the right thing. I reached my rosh yeshiva very late, and he said that we absolutely made a massive kiddush Hashem. My rosh yeshiva advised me to refuse a reward for my actions, unless the owner insisted.
The following day, we strapped our four children (ages six, four, three and one) into the car and brought them along on our trip to return the money. We wanted this to be a learning experience for them, to teach them about honesty and doing the right thing.
When we arrived at Patty’s house, she was waiting for us, filled with gratitude and wonder. She then explained how the large sum money fell behind the drawers in the desk.
Patty had been grief-stricken when her parents passed away within a short while of each other. When she received the inheritance, she planned to put it into the bank, but didn’t have the emotional energy. Instead, she put the bag of money inside a desk drawer. When she decided to deposit it in the bank, it had disappeared, literally into thin air. Apparently, it had slid out of the drawer she placed it in and fell down behind the big filing drawers of the desk. When she sold her desk, Patty had no idea the money had been there! Had we not taken the desk apart to get it into the room, we never would have found it.
Patty repeatedly insisted that we accept a reward. We initially refused, but when we saw how strongly she felt about it, we agreed. She also gave us a handwritten note, which read, in part, “I cannot thank you enough for your honesty and integrity. I do not think there are too many people in this world that would have done what you did by calling me. “Included in the card was the money we paid for the desk!”
We went home on a high, grateful that we’d returned a treasure to its rightful owner. Apart from friends and close family, no one knew our story, and we preferred it this way. We were about to begin a new school year, followed by the Yomim Tovim, so our story remained hidden.
And then a couple of weeks ago, we attended the regional Torah Umesorah Convention in Boston. At the convention, I (Noach) had the zechus of meeting Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky and related the story. The rosh yeshiva was insistent that we publicize the story, to make a kiddush Hashem. This is especially important nowadays, when there is so much bashing of anyone who appears to be religious.
We called CNN the following day to share our story. They sounded interested, but gave us the runaround, finally telling someone to get in touch with our local branch first. The local branch was very excited and dispatched someone to our home that day to get the scoop.
Within hours, or so it seemed, the story we’d almost forgotten went viral, k’heref ayin, like the blink of an eye! It became quite a sensation. Almost every news outlet carried it, and many called us for interviews. In fact, when you first called, we were speaking to the BBC.
Ironically, we are quiet people by nature and weren’t expecting so much attention for what we thought was the only natural response. To us, it was a no-brainer.
It was only in the past few days, when we heard people’s comments, that we realized we actually did have a choice.
We are very grateful that to us this was our natural choice.
If we could, we would do it all over again.
KIDDUSH HASHEM IN NEW YORK
By Malky Lowinger
The New York City subway system can be a bleak, dreary place, but last Thursday night it positively glowed with kindness and goodwill. That’s when Isaac Theil, a middle-aged frum Yid who lives in Brooklyn, allowed a young African American gentleman to rest his weary head on his shoulder. When a fellow passenger offered to wake the young man, as it was clearly uncomfortable for Theil, he answered, “He had a long day, so let him sleep. We’ve all been there, right?’ When the Q train finally reached Newkirk Avenue, Theil’s stop, he gently woke the young man and disembarked.
And that would have been the end of that.
Except that one of Theil’s fellow riders was so impressed with what he saw, he took a picture on his cellphone and posted it on social media. It was the beginning of a media sensation. Something about the sight of a Jewish man caring for a young black man in a hoodie on the subway tugged at the heartstrings of just about anyone who saw the picture. The picture gained in popularity, was shared on the internet, and was eventually discovered by the media. One thing led to another until Isaac Theil became a worldwide celebrity, eliciting comments of praise and approval from virtually everyone. Because his yarmulka identified him as Jewish, he also became the source of a first class kiddush Hashem.
A New York Daily News columnist wrote, “Isaac Theil was just trying to help out a fellow New Yorker. Photo has made the Orthodox Jew a global celebrity.” The Huffington Post headline stated, “Sleeping Stranger Subway Pic Defines Empathy and Is a Lesson In Being Good.” And from Gothamist: “Straphanger Napping on Stranger’s Shoulder Renews Faith In Humanity.”
At last count, 1.3 million people have expressed approval of the subway picture, and that number is only a fraction of the millions who have actually seen it. In a world where the news is mostly negative and the media generally focuses on scandals and misfortune, the simple story of Isaac and his fellow subway rider made a powerful impact.
Who is Isaac Theil, and how has his newfound fame affected him? The Yated spoke to Isaac’s daughter, Helah, who says that her father grew up in Montreal and currently lives in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. He davens at several shuls, most notably Agudath Shalom of 18th Avenue. He is a retired accountant who spends his days now caring for a granddaughter.
Interestingly, the young African American has still not been positively identified. “A few people have come forward since the story aired on the news,” says Helah, “but their stories didn’t match up, so it wasn’t any of them.”
Helah adds that the worldwide media attention has definitely been overwhelming. She says her father has been interviewed by most of the local media and newspaper outlets, and that people are now recognizing him wherever he goes. “People have been calling from Canada, Israel, and Australia,” she says. “It’s everywhere!”
Yet, with all the excitement and attention, those who know Isaac also know that there was nothing unusual about what he did. “Dad is just a kind heart like that,” explains Helah. “He didn’t even think twice about it.”
Isaac’s cousin, Orlee, who lives in Scarsdale, echoes the sentiment. “This is Isaac being Isaac,” she says. “He is a great guy and a good Jew and this is what he does!”