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Synagogue director says man caught on video swiping silver

Young Israel of Queens Valley Executive Director George Srolovits looks at a silver breast plate similar to the one believed to be stolen.
Surveillance video depicts a man carrying a bag.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Police have arrested a man suspected of stealing several valuable religious artifacts from three Flushing-area synagogues, the Queens district attorney said Wednesday.

The man, Kew Gardens resident Roman Iskhakov, 26, was arrested Tuesday in connection with thefts from Congregation Ahavath Sholom on June 18, Beth Gavriel Center for Bukharian Jews on Aug. 14 and Young Israel of Queens Valley on Aug. 16, the DA said.

The DA also alleges that Iskhakov sold some of the stolen items to pawn shops.

If convicted, he faces seven years in prison, the DA said.

A man suspected of stealing several silver religious artifacts from the Young Israel of Queens Valley in Kew Gardens Hills was caught on videotape apparently scoping out the synagogue the afternoon before the theft, its executive director said Friday.

George Srolovits, the director, said the man, who is wearing a white shirt and gray pants, can be seen on a security video recording around noon Aug. 16 looking around an altar and trying to open a locked door where silver valuables were kept.

Srolovits said he spoke to the man at that time to ask him if he needed assistance.

“He said, ‘I’m just here to pray,’ which is kind of unusual,” Srolovits said. “Nobody comes here to pray at 12 o’clock.”

He said a custodian at the synagogue also recalled seeing the man around the premises several times over the week prior to the theft.

“He was casing the place,” Srolovits said.

The video recordings also show the man entering the building during evening prayer services, going directly to the basement and leaving holding a full plastic bag, according to Srolovits. He said it is possible to make out the outline of the silver items in the bag. Members noticed the items were missing from the ark several days after the theft, Srolovits said.

The synagogue is at 141-55 77th Ave.

Srolovits said two silver rimonim ornaments and a silver breastplate and ritual pointer were missing. He estimated the total cost of the items to be $3,000 to $4,000.

Silver items such as those believed stolen are traditionally used to adorn the Torah.

“People usually donate them in the memory of a loved one,” said Srolovits. “so it has sentimental value as well as monetary.”

Srolovits said he had shown a picture of the man caught on video to several members of the synagogue and other people in the community, but at that time no one had recognized him.

“For us, if he’s one of the faith, one of our faith, that makes it even worse,” Srolovits said.

“It’s very sad that there are people in the world who have no conscience and to go into a sanctuary, a place of worship, where people come for peaceful reasons and altruistic reasons, and this could happen,” he said. “People can get help all different ways and to stoop so low is a sad commentary on society.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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