If Jon Taleb, a Muslim woman from Joshua Tree, Calif., hadn't found a discarded ark – a cabinet designed to hold a Torah scroll – in a Yucca Valley antique story, it probably would not be sitting in the Chabad Jewish Community Center of Riverside today.

But sometimes it all comes down to Divine Providence. And in this case not only did the ark's refurbishing get set in motion by a Muslim, but a Mormon family joined several Jews in the effort to return the item to its former glory.

As Taleb tells it, she knew immediately what the ark was when she saw it in the antique store, where it had been sitting for 30 years. She recognized the Hebrew lettering engraved on the wood cabinet from Jewish events she had attended in the past. But at $100, she didn't want to buy it.

She shared the news, however, with her Jewish friend, Margie Akin of Riverside, Calif., when she arrived to play their regular Mahjong game. As fortune would have it, Akin had stopped to play the lottery during her hour-long drive to Joshua Tree, winning exactly $100. She decided to purchase the ark.

But after hauling the piece from the store on the back of a pickup truck, the pair wondered what exactly to do with their new ark.

A New Home

Rabbi Shmuel Fuss looks on as Andrew Malone inspects an antique ark.
Rabbi Shmuel Fuss looks on as Andrew Malone inspects an antique ark.
A short time later, Akin met Rabbi Shmuel Fuss, co-director of the Riverside Chabad-Lubavitch institution, at the home of friend Gail Grech, while Fuss was affixing a mezuzah to the doorway. Grech, a congregant of Fuss', knew immediately what to do with Akin's discovery.

"There was nothing before for the Torah," Gretch said of her synagogue. "The Torah did not have a real home."

The problem, though, was that after years of neglect, the ark was unusable.

That's where the Mormon family came in. Chet Trupp, a member of the Chabad Jewish Community Center, related to Tzippy Fuss, the center's co-director and wife of its rabbi, that he knew a Mormon boy who was looking to do a community service project as part of his involvement with the Boy Scouts.

"We said let's match the kid up with the rabbi and then, lo and behold, at the same time the ark came up," reported Trupp.

Andrew Malone, 16, had by that time already finished his project, but his family didn't pass up on the opportunity to do another good deed. His father, Mark Malone, a part-time carpenter, offered their time to refurbish the ark in advance of Rosh Hashanah so that it could be used at High Holiday services.

Not content with the relatively simple task of getting the ark back on its feet, so to speak, father and son also constructed a base to support it.

Looking back at the course of events, Grech was in awe.

"There were so many small steps," she said. "If each one hadn't happened," the synagogue wouldn't have a proper home for its Torah.

Fuss said that it was a real treat to celebrate the Jewish New Year with a new ark.

"It was amazing to bring to life the community that used the ark in the past," said the rabbi, who opened the Chabad center in 2004. "We were able to connect the past with the future. It's history coming back to life."