Stolen memories

If sentimental value could be cashed in at the pawnshop, some Concord thieves would be sitting on top of a gold mine.

On the morning of Thursday, March 25, Debi Mishael discovered that an unknown number of brigands had rifled through her unlocked car. While, stunningly, the thief or thieves left a VCR behind, the items stolen possessed far more emotional worth.

Gone were 18 blankets her 13-year-old daughter, Dorie, had made by hand to donate to foster children. Gone was a Hefty bag full of kippot for Dorie’s upcoming bat mitzvah. And, worst of all, gone was the handmade tallit Mishael had bought in Israel 19 years ago for her now-deceased mother, Bobbi Swedelson, when Swedelson celebrated her adult bat mitzvah.

“Someone has 90 kippot with my daughter’s name inscribed in them. What are they going to do with those?” asked Mishael, the camp director at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek.

“There’s no possible resale value. We’re trying to be hopeful it will turn up in the bushes. There’s a big greenbelt in our neighborhood and maybe they dumped it somewhere.”

Dorie’s bat mitzvah, incidentally, went off without a hitch Saturday, March 27, at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. Both mother and daughter, however, were crushed that Swedelson — who died two years ago at age 65 — couldn’t participate in spirit through her tallit.

Swedelson celebrated her bat mitzvah nearly two decades ago at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont. She was a Jewish educator in the Fremont area for nearly 25 years. Swedelson and her daughter worked together at the CCJCC for around five years; at one point Mishael was her mother’s supervisor.

Mishael laughed when she recalled the story behind the off-white and maroon-striped tallit. She had wandered into Jerusalem’s fervently religious Mea Shearim district, and made the mistake of telling the Orthodox salesman the prayer shawl was for her mother. He was not amused.

Mishael had to backtrack, and say she meant her brother. That was more like it. The tallit cost around $100.

“He knew I was lying, I knew I was lying, but it was the only way he could sell it to me,” she said with a chuckle.

Dorie wore a tallit for her bat mitzvah that had been given to her mother by a Mobile, Ala., congregation where Mishael had served as religious educator for six years. Dorie was born in Mobile.

Despite the last-minute upset, Dorie’s performance on the bimah went on without a hitch.

“She was flawless,” gushed her mother.

Detective Don Lawson of the Concord Police Department said he’s rummaged through local dumpsters and trash cans, but has so far come up empty-handed. He’s baffled by the mindset of a thief who would bypass a VCR and steal a scarf.

“In 21 years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “I’m stumped.”

Any information regarding this case should be reported to Lawson at (925) 671-3039.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.