|L 0 C K E D
A NOVEL BY
THE JUDAICA PRESS, INC.
© Copyright 2002 by M.C. Millman
In this intriguing thriller, a small-town
Jewish community finds itselfand its
150 year-old hidden treasureever
more entangled in what seems like a
dark web of conspiracy.
An ancient key, a brave and resourceful
Rebbetzin, and a thoughtful Rabbi may be
the only ones who can solve the mystery.
But will they be able to unlock
the answers in time?
Will they ever be able to bring order
back to their peaceful community?
LARGE SHADOWS LEAPED AND FELL AS THE FIGURES INSIDE CREPT
slowly forward. The stained glass windows cast the shad-
owy apparitions in peculiar hues, as one by one, the mov-
ing forms crept past the story-high stained glass windows and
then moved onward, candles eerily flickering.
The observer at the window stood motionless a moment
longer, the midnight blue velvet curtains pushed to the side,
gazing out at the scene from a distance. After so many years of
taking in similar events from across the way, he had accepted
them, for all their strangeness, as something familiar. Despite
the distance of the wide open field and his seventy-two years,
Mark Olsen's blue eyes were still sharp enough to ascertain
exactly what was taking place in the distance. He smiled and
let the curtain fall back in place. He knew that this strange
show of shadowy darkness and leaping light would progress
inevitably further the next day, when he would be called to par-
ticipate in the proceedings, as he had for countless years
beforehand, and as his father, grandfather, and great grandfa-
ther had before him. His was a singular but ancient position,
and Mr. Olsen looked forward to taking his place on the mor-
row in a tradition even more ancient than the part his own fam-
ily had played in it over many, many years.
The shul had rapidly emptied after maariv (evening prayers)as each of the
congregants hurried home to attend to the task of bedikas
chometz. Only the Rav, Rabbi Mordechai Fein; the shul presi-
dent, Shloimy Berg; along with Menachem Rosen, Shloimy's
brother-in-law from Flatbush; and a few of their combined chil-
dren had remained behind to do the bedikas chometz in the
shul before returning to their own homes and completing the
"Do you think we'll find it?" ten-year-old Aharon Fein
asked, looking up, his brown eyes reflecting the bright light of
the candle his father had just lit for him.
"Find what?" asked Rabbi Fein as he shielded his own can-
dle carefully as an imperceptible draft played havoc with the
It wasn't as if he didn't know what his son was speaking
about. Rabbi Fein's question was just a way of trying to put a
cap on his own excitement, to buy a few moments of time to
collect himself. Every year when it was time for bedikas
chometzthe time they were required to search every possible
nook and cranny the old shul containedhe too felt this mys-
Every yearfor the past nearly hundred and fifty yearsit
was the same wild hope that rose when the search began for
each rabbi whose job it was. Maybe this year it would happen!
Hashem only knew how much they needed it this year even
more than ever in the past. The shul was sunk in debt. A fore-
closure was imminent. The way things looked now, this might
be the last ever bedikas chometz to take place in the structure
that had been built nearly two hundred years ago. The shul,
Bais Yisroel, had a long history. It was one of the oldest syna-
gogues still in use in the United States.
"The treasure," Aharon breathed almost reverently, his eyes
aglow. "Maybe this year, we'll find the treasure that was lost
during the Civil War."
"You say that every year, Aharon," twelve-year-old Rena
chided her brother in her most assured older sister voice. "No
one has found it yet. Why should we?"
"What treasure?" asked Yehuda Rosen. "No one told me
about any treasure. Who hid it? Who lost it? What"
"Don't forget to breathe," said Shloimy Berg, laughing
down at his twelve-year-old, red-headed nephew. "There's
nothing to get so hyped up about. We're looking for chometz
tonight, not treasure. The treasure is just an old story, almost as
old as the shul itself, and chometz is an even older story, but
that we find every year."
"I want to hear about the treasure!" Yehuda insisted stub-
bornly, his blue eyes flashing angrily. "What if I find it when
we're doing bedikas chometz and don't even know what I'm
looking at? It's better if I hear all about it now, don't you
Shloimy looked down with mild amusement at Yehuda,
who always seemed to be getting worked up about something.
"I'll tell you all about it," said Rabbi Fein kindly, looking
around at the circle of young, eager faces. "I certainly wouldn't
want you, Yehuda, to find it in some obscure corner and not
even know what you've found! The story goes like this." The
candles cast strange shadows on Rabbi Fein's long dark beard
as he spoke, making his words sound even more mysterious. "A
long, long time ago, well over one hundred years ago, in 1861
to be exact, a war raged across the United States."
"The Civil War," volunteered Aharon, who was a history
"Exactly," said Rabbi Fein, nodding approvingly. 'The Civil
War was in full swing at the time and most able-bodied men
had gone off, enlisting to fight for the cause of whichever side
they believed in. At that time, the rabbi of this shul was Rabbi
Yechial Rudinsky. Rabbi Rudinsky, under pressure from his
congregation, had not, as of yet, enlisted. Everyone felt that he
was more needed at home and shouldn't jeopardize his own
life when so many relied on him for spiritual guidance.
As the war dragged on, Rabbi Rudinsky began to be eaten
up by guilt because he was not able to fulfill what he viewed as
his civic duty. Unable to hold out any longer, two years after the
war had started, he enlisted. It proved to be a tragic decision,
both for the Rav and the entire community, as he was killed at
the terrible Battle of Gettysburg only a short while after enlist-
ing. Not only did his death devastate the community spiritual-
ly, but it wiped out the community coffers and the shul of its
most valuable physical possessions as well."
"Why?" asked Yehuda. "Was the Rav very rich, and it all got
stolen when he died?"
"It wasn't his wealth that was lost," said Rabbi Fein. "It was
all the treasure that the shul possessed. The shul had received
gifts from European Jewssilver ornaments and things like
that, used for various services in the shul just like we would use
"Like a menorah, or the silver kesser for the Torah," sug-
"Very good, Aharon," said Rabbi Fein, proud of his only
son's eagerness to contribute. "It was all tragically lost with
Rabbi Rudinsky's death. It was worth a lot of money even back
then. Imagine how much it's worth today! You see, before leav-
ing to join the war, Rabbi Rudinsky had hidden all the valu-
ables that the shul then possessed to keep it from marauders
and pillagers, in case the shul somehow fell into the wrong
hands during those uncertain times."
"But didn't he tell anyone where he hid it?" Yehuda asked
the obvious question.
"Certainly/' said Rabbi Fein. "Rabbi Rudinsky was a very
wise Rav. He told the far too few remaining members of the
shul at the time that the secret of the shul's wealth had been
shared with one person whom he trusted explicitly.
"His wife, right?" asked Aharon.
Rabbi Fein smiled. "Who else would he have trusted so
completely?" said Rabbi Fein, nodding his agreement, running
his hands through his long beard. "Anyway, Rabbi Rudinsky
told his congregantswho were mostly women at the time
because nearly all the men had long since joined the army
that they needn't worry as the treasure was safely hidden for
"What exactly did the Rav hide?" asked Eli Berg.
He had heard the story numerous times before from his
father but had never heard a detailed listing of what was lost.
"We're not clear on everything that was put away," said
Rabbi Fein, his eyes glowing gold from the reflected candle-
light, "but we do know that there were a few very valuable
pieces, such as a huge silver menorah, silver crowns from the
Torah scrolls, and a beautiful, ornate ner tamid of gold that
was brought over from Europe. We have a list of these items
and a few others, but it could be that Rabbi Rudinsky hid more
things before he left."
"So, what happened to the Rebbetzin?" asked Rena. "Was
she killed in the war too?"
"Not at all," said Rabbi Fein. "Faigel Rudinsky lived to a
ripe old age but was never quite the same after she received the
news of her husband's death, and I think other relatives died as
well. But she never fully recovered from the blow of losing her
husband. It. seems that, tragically enough, she completely for-
got what her husband had told her about where the treasure
had been hidden. When she died, all hope of ever finding the
treasure died with her, because by then, the shul and the rabbi's
house, which was attached to the shul at the time, had been
extensively searched with no results."
"And today we are going to look again!" said Aharon, look-
ing around the large bais midrash, eager to begin.
"Everyone's already looked," said Rena, almost impatiently.
She hated the way her brother got so excited about everything.
"Why do you think that we'll find it after everyone else looked
"Stranger things have been known to happen," Rabbi Fein
retorted, sticking up for Aharon, as he opened his well-worn
siddur to the proper place. "Maybe this year, we'll finally have
enough zechus to find what was lost so long ago."
"If it's really still lost," said Rena with a sniff. "Who's to say
that someone didn't find it ages ago and just made off with the
loot quietly without telling anyone?"
"I don't think so, Rena," said Rabbi Fein. "Rabbi Rudinsky
certainly wouldn't have left it in a place that just anyone could
find. There have been stories that maybe he buried it or some-
"He probably put it in a secret place that no one can find,"
said Rena, thinking back on all the years of fruitless searches
that her father had told her had been conducted in the shul
over the decades.
"When it's meant to be located," Rabbi Fein said calmly, "it
will be found, and not a moment before then."
With that, Rabbi Fein began the bracha for bedikas
chometz and the search began with the by now half-melted
candles. Ten squares of bread wrapped tightly in tissue, plus
numerous odd bits of cheerios, ancient pretzels and a variety of
other hardened odds and ends were swept neatly by Rabbi Fein
into the paper bag his daughter wielded. Then they blew out
the candles and pulled out their flashlights for a more thorough
search with all the lights on.
The searchers left not a single object unturned, or so they
thought. They went throughout the bais midrash, both
women's and men's sections, down the hallway and into the
social hall and kitchen and then down to the musty old base-
ment and finally to Rabbi Fein's book-filled office. Tonight, as
in so many searches previously, the treasure eluded them as it
had in all the generations before.
"Looks like that's about it," said Rabbi Fein as the small
group gathered together in the bais midrash after the search
had been completed. They opened the lights of the large room
and Rena gathered up some of the siddurim and ordered them
neatly on a shelf. She liked everything neat and was always the
one putting things away in her house.
"I think we should search again," said Aharon earnestly.
"Why on earth do you think that?" asked Rena.
"Because," said Aharon, "if we didn't find the treasure, we
haven't looked well enough for the chometz."
"Agreed," said Yehuda instantly. "Let's go for it."
"Not so fast," said Shloimy, grabbing at the boys before they
could make a dive out of the bais midrash door. "Enough is
"Not quite," said Rabbi Fein. "There is plenty more search-
ing yet to be done."
"Yeah," said Aharon, with a smirk for his sister.
"At home," said Rabbi Fein firmly. "We've done our best, as
has every group that has ever searched this shul, since the
treasure was lost. That's all that Hashem can ask from us. Now
it's time to get home to continue the bedika there."
It was a subdued bunch that walked out of the shul that
evening, each seemingly wrapped up in his or her own
thoughts. The bedikas chometz had been completed as always,
but the shul's long lost treasure was a different matter. It was
there, somewhere close by, just as certainly as the ten small
pieces of bread were always there, laid out and hidden well
before the bedika. It was just so well hidden that even the most
ardent searchers were bound to failyear after year after year.