Search underway at beach for sacred items stolen from synagogue on Long Island

LONG BEACH, Long Island (WABC) -- Officials are leading a coastline patrol in search of sacred Jewish relics that may have been thrown into the Atlantic Ocean during a recent vandalism attack at a local Shul.

The incident was reported at Chabad of the Beaches on West Walnut Street on Saturday.

Search crews are keeping an eye out for missing sanctuary artifacts. Lost objects included two Torahs, a Torah crown, prayer shawls and other items of significance.

Authorities say several of the items have been found, however two Torahs are still missing.

Rabbi Eli Goodman discovered the vandalism. The first thing he said he saw was prayer shawls knotted together on the ground.

"At first, I thought who did this?" he said.

Goodman said the two stolen Torahs belonged to the previous congregation of the synagogue - Temple Beth-El. Chabad of the Beaches recently moved into the building after completing two years of renovations.

"These Torahs have been used for many, many decades," Goodman said. "We want to get them back in any shape or form."

The suspect is believed to be mentally ill and is currently hospitalized. He was later identified as 23-year-old Hunter McElrath and is facing charges of burglary, criminal mischief and grand larceny.



Police say McElrath broke into the synagogue and intentionally damaged the Ark before stealing several religious items.

Long Beach Police Commissioner Ron Walsh said the department received many 911 phone calls on Saturday from people reporting McElrath walking around the Long Beach boardwalk naked holding a spear and wearing a silver crown.

The crown is believed to have been from the synagogue and the spear was the Yad, a Jewish ritual pointer.

Walsh said Long Beach police officers have canvassed the entire area looking for the missing items.

"We have scoured every backyard, every garbage pail, every bush in a grid along this entire neighborhood," he said.

Walsh said investigators have spoken with McElrath in the hospital, but he has refused to tell them what he did with the items.

Walsh said the incident is not being considered a hate crime.

Town officials are asking beachgoers to keep an eye out for the missing items during the final weeks of summer.

"My heart breaks for the many families who call the Chabad of the Beaches their spiritual home, and I want them to know the Town of Hempstead stands with them during this sad hour," said Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin. "These shorefront safety patrols led by the Town will help aid in the search of the many sacred items taken during this incident, and raise awareness amongst the general public to remain vigilant as the recovery mission continues."

On Monday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran also expressed her disgust at the vandalism and said the County stands with the Jewish community.

If someone finds something resembling a religious artifact on the beach, they're asked to call Long Beach Police, Nassau County Police or give the item to a lifeguard.

Members of the public can contact the Nassau County Police Department at (516) 573-8800 or the City of Long Beach Police Department at (516) 431-1800 to report any relevant information on the case.

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