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The Shame of the Stolen Stone

June 3, 2009


Did you ever feel really badly when you took something you weren’t supposed to? This story is a lesson in guilt, atonement, and forgiveness, involving one really big rock.

JERUSALEM (AFP) – A guilt-ridden New Yorker has returned a massive marble stone he took from an excavation site in Jerusalem's Old City 12 years ago, Israel's Antiquities Authority said on Tuesday. The 21-kilo (46-pound) piece of 9th century marble column disappeared from an Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) dig in 1997. Several weeks ago the authority received an email from a priest in New York State who requested forgiveness on behalf of a member of his congregation. "The fellow confessed to me that 12 years ago he took a stone from Jerusalem and his conscience has bothered him ever since. I wish to return the stone to Israel and hope that you will forgive the man for his transgression," the cleric wrote, according to a statement from the IAA. The stone was returned this week with a letter from the "thief," who said he was given it by an Israeli tour guide during a visit to Israel. "Only later did I realize that he probably took the stone from the excavation without permission," wrote the man, whose name has not been released. "For the past twelve years since then, rather than remind me of the prayer for Jerusalem, I am reminded of the mistake I made when I removed the stone from its proper place in Israel. I am asking for your forgiveness." Shay Bar Tura, deputy director of the IAA unit for the prevention of antiquities theft, said no legal action would be taken "because of the unique case of sincerity and the fact that the item was ultimately returned." (“Guilt-ridden New Yorker returns stolen rock to Israel,” Yahoo News, June 2, 2009)

Man with Stone: Father, I must confess a horrible sin.  I feel absolutely terrible.

Father: What happened, my son? Did you cheat on your wife? Did you murder your next door neighbor?

Man with Stone: Worse, I took a valuable possession 12 years ago and it’s been haunting me ever since. I must confess to this crime once and for all.

Father: What did you steal, your mother-in-law’s diamond ring? Your best friend’s car?

Man with Stone: No, I took a valuable rock, a really big rock.

Father: A rock? Was it a piece of the tablets of the Ten Commandments? Was it the stone with the sword in it?

Man with Stone: It was a 46 pound rock an Israeli tour guide gave me as a souvenir.

Father: What? He didn’t give you permission to take it?

Man with Stone: Not that I remember; that’s why I feel so bad. And I have had 12 years of sleepless nights because of it.

Father: Look, I have some connections. Let me call my contacts in Israel. For now, just say 12 Hail Mary’s and an Amidah for good measure. Do you have your cell by chance?

Man with Stone: Sure, but I don’t have the international plan.

Father: Okay, I’ll call collect. Shay, my man, vus machs da?

Shay Bar Tura (Director of IAA unit for the prevention of antiquities theft): Not much, papa. What can I do you out of?

Father: Shay, I got a problem. One of my congregants took something from your land a few years ago and he really feels badly about it. Here, Stoneman, you tell Shay.

Man with Stone: For the past twelve years, rather than remind me of the prayer for Jerusalem, I am reminded of the mistake I made when I removed the stone from its proper place in Israel. I am asking for your forgiveness.

Shay: Well, only God can forgive you for your indiscretion, but I can tell you that with your unique case of sincerity, I am willing to let bygones be bygones. Keep the rock.

Man with Stone: I can’t keep it. I’ve been carrying it metaphorically for 144 months and the weight is killing me. I have to send it back. Should I send it UPS or Fed Ex? Do you want it Next Day Air?

Shay: How much does it weigh?

Man with Stone: 46 pounds.

Shay: 46 pounds? Are you kidding me? How were you planning to package this up? In a box? Cellophane wrap? I’m telling you now; we have plenty of stones here, just like that one. So just keep the stone, please. It’s my pleasure.

Man with Stone: No way. It has to go back. I’ll pay any price and ship anyway to get it off my back.

Shay: Please, Stoneman, keep the fakakta rock.

Man with Stone: Shay, with all sincerity, I just can’t. I have to get it off my chest today.

Shay: Oy vehzmir. I’ll send you a UPS pick-up slip over the internet. Let me get Haim, my receiving manager, to give you the info. Is the Father still there?

Father: Yes, Shay.

Shay: Father, you and Stoneman have really done a mitzvah. But can I ask you next time, if you or any of your congregants are given a 46 pound stone, just say no. Just say no way.

Seven days later, the marble stone is received by Haim Shchupak in a tattered box, the rock sticking straight out. Luckily, the receiving clerk’s hand is not cut open. Haim calls the man with the stone.

Man with Stone: Hello?

Haim: Stoneman, I got the rock. What kind of fershlugina box did you use anyway?

Man with Stone: I don’t know. I got it from my garage.

Haim: Well, I had my head inspector take a digital photo of the stone, so you know it’s now back in good hands. You can see how delighted I am that we have the missing stone.

Man with Stone: Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it and tell Shay I am so happy that Israel is not suing me for First Degree Meditated Theft. I have learned my lesson and will never, ever steal stones again. By the way, if anyone asks, I have never seen that missing yellow torn parchment with the squiggly lines of words I can’t decipher. I know nothing.


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