Theft of 140-year-old tallit leaves San Francisco family saddened

The theft of a FedEx package containing an old tallit has devastated a San Francisco family, though publicity from a television news report on the crime has given the family hope the heirloom might be found.

The tallit, which has been in the family of Kathy Rosenberg-Wohl since her great-grandfather emigrated from Hungary in the late 19th century, was snatched from her front porch on Sept. 13. An empty, torn-into FedEx box addressed to her was found nearby on a footbridge over Geary Boulevard.

Ben, the son of Kathy Rosenberg-Wohl’s cousin, wearing the family heirloom at his recent bar mitzvah

Also missing is the bag that held the tallit, adorned with a needlepoint inscription of “Shalom.”

“We’re all just really distressed,” said Rosenberg-Wohl, who had sent the tallit to her cousin for a bar mitzvah in Texas. When it was sent back last week, a delivery person left the package on her front porch. “It was the most valuable item in our family, and the oldest item.”

Rosenberg-Wohl has canvassed her Fillmore District neighborhood daily and placed dozen of signs up on lampposts and other public places. Friends of the family relayed the news to KTVU Channel 2, which aired a piece on the incident last weekend.

So far, no luck.

Though of minimal monetary value, the tallit holds great sentimental value in the family. It had belonged to Rosenberg-Wohl’s great-grandfather, Louis Wohl, who presumably obtained the tallit for his bar mitzvah in Hungary in the 1870s. He brought it with him when he immigrated to Louisiana in the 1880s, and it was passed down through the generations ever since.

Each of the patriarch’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren wore the tallit at their bar or bat mitzvahs, Rosenberg-Wohl said.

Because of the publicity the theft has gotten, the family hopes somehow the tallit will be found — perhaps in a garbage can, or a dumpster, or even in a hedge — and returned. Rosenberg-Wohl can be reached at [email protected] if anyone has any leads.

And if the tallit is gone forever, they are prepared to be stoic about its loss.

“Our daughter said that things only have meaning because of what we attach to them,” Rosenberg-Wohl said. “The meaning is what’s important. In the end, it’s family that matters.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.