Rabbi Fred Benjamin took one look at the big lumpy box that UPS had delivered to his synagogue in Milton and felt a surge of dread and fear.
With its rounded corners and crushed ends, the box looked as if it had bounced around in the back of a truck, which Benjamin would later learn was most likely what happened.
The box contained a Torah, the sacred five books of Moses found in every synagogue, each one a unique work of calligraphy laboriously inked by specially qualified scribes on long pieces of parchment sewn together and rolled between two wooden spindles.
This particular one, a gift 70 years ago from a soon-to-be shuttered synagogue in Boston to a new, up-and-coming one in the suburbs, had been sent away for expert repair and restoration, after about a century of use by generations of Jews in Greater Boston.
Benjamin quickly opened the box and pulled out the Torah. While the Torah was mostly intact, the end of one of its spindles was deeply cracked and missing a piece the size of a small egg.
“It felt like a punch in the stomach,” Benjamin recalled of that moment.
To Paul Cooperstein, president of Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills, where Benjamin is the rabbi, there was only one course to take: Make this hallowed and historical object whole again.
“This wasn’t some toy; this wasn’t some model airplane; this was a Torah, the embodiment of holiness,” he said. “It had to be restored 100 percent.”
A new spindle would have to be crafted to replace the damaged one, at a cost of about $630.
And Cooperstein wanted UPS to pay for it. He helped file a claim on behalf of Sofer in Site International, the Florida firm of scribes led by a team of rabbis that had done the repairs. The company was hired last year by Congregation Beth Shalom to restore two of its eight treasured Torahs at a cost of more than $6,000. Sofer contracted with UPS in January to pick up the cleaned and repaired Torahs and return them, separately, to Milton.
After a lengthy exchange of e-mails and photographs, UPS offered a refund of $100.
UPS provided no explanation for its denial of the full amount, even after Cooperstein, a lawyer, sent a detailed, two-page letter in March in which he emphasized that UPS’s online tracking system indicated the box had been damaged in a “transportation accident.”
That clearly proved UPS was at fault and should pay the full repair cost, Cooperstein said in an interview at the synagogue.
“If a chef burns your food he doesn’t serve it anyway,” he said. “He replaces it at no cost to you. That’s what UPS should do.”
UPS replied to me with an apology for the damage (actually it was owed to Congregation Beth Shalom). But the company also cited a section of its 31-page “terms and conditions,” which limit its liability for loss or damage to $100, unless the customer clicks on a particular box and agrees to pay about $10.50 extra for every $1,000 in added (potential) liability. It’s like insurance (but not exactly). And Sofer didn’t click the box. In retrospect, doing so would have been a good idea.
I told a surprised Cooperstein what UPS told me about its limited liability. Yes, he faulted Sofer for not giving the synagogue the option of paying extra to protect its Torahs, but he still holds UPS primarily responsible.
“UPS actually did the damage,” he said. “Fair play and good will demand that it accept responsibility.”
I agree. So, too, upon further reflection, did UPS. It called me late last week with a revised statement pledging to pay the full amount to Congregation Beth Shalom: “Customer satisfaction is our utmost priority. Upon further review of the unique circumstances surrounding this claim, UPS has decided to reimburse the synagogue for the full claim amount.”
For consumers using shipping companies, be aware of the liability issue. Focus on the part that says “declared value.” That’s where you can enter a realistic value to transfer some of the risk to UPS. Beware, also, about getting hit with a $850 surcharge if your box exceeds easily overlooked information about size limitation, as I wrote about in March.
Finally, about that second Torah delivered by UPS? It arrived after sundown on a Friday, the beginning of the Jewish sabbath, despite explicit instructions not to deliver it then. It was also raining when it was dropped at the door of the synagogue.
Refunds, after all
Anyone have a gift card to L’Espalier, the Back Bay gourmet restaurant that closed abruptly on Dec. 31, just days after announcing it would do so?
If so, you’ve got some cash coming your way.
Frank McClelland, the L’Espalier chef and owner, made no provision to refund unused gift cards before slamming the door shut on a restaurant that had been a Boston fixture for decades.
The restaurant first gave public notice of its impending closure in a Globe article on Dec. 26. That touched off a mad scramble, as cardholders pleaded for last-minute reservations to spend down their cards. But the restaurant was far too busy during the holidays to accommodate everyone.
Restaurant personnel confronted by angry would-be diners wound up offering them uncooked meat, tea, and other “goodies” in lieu of a refund.
I wrote about the unfairness of it, which drew the attention of Attorney General Maura Healey. And last week her office filed an agreement in court whereby McClelland will make $11,400 available for folks stiffed by his restaurant.
The AG’s office has already received more than 40 consumer complaints. A form for anyone requesting reimbursement can be downloaded from the AG’s website, filled out, and mailed with the gift card to the AG’s office by July 23. Or you can call 617-963-2596.
Hey, the system worked.