- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NEW HAVEN, CONN. (AP) - A Yale professor who learned to paint with his left hand after part of his right hand was ripped away in an explosion by the Unabomber will get back two beloved paintings that were recently stolen.

New Haven police said Monday a weekend raid of a home where drugs were allegedly sold has turned up 39 pieces of stolen art, including two paintings believed to belong to Unabomber victim David Gelernter. The art was stolen from the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale and the public library and traded for drugs, police said.

“I’m delighted,” Gelernter said, praising police for finding the art. “You put a great deal of yourself, of your thought, ideas, worldview into a painting.”

Gelernter’s son, Daniel, also had a painting stolen. It was their first show together by the father and son, who paint together at their Woodbridge, Conn., home, outside New Haven.

Gelernter spent months on his paintings. The father and son were outraged and depressed when the art work was stolen, Daniel Gelernter said.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Daniel Gelernter, 21, whose stolen painting also was recovered. “We had more or less thought we’d never see the paintings again.”

David Gelernter, a computer science professor who was critically injured in 1993, said it took him about a year to learn to paint with left hand.

“I thought at the time my painting days were over,” he said. “I thought it would be impossible.”

His son praised his father’s work.

“It’s something he’s triumphed over completely and very effectively,” his son said, describing how his father paints in bold and sweeping strokes. “The strength of his drawing is absolutely astonishing.”

Police say they found the artwork when they raided the home of Bruno Nestir, 47, who faces drug and larceny charges.

His attorney, Rob Serafinowicz, challenged the credibility of the man accusing his client.

“The facts in this case don’t support any type of a charge for larceny,” Serafinowicz said. “And I’m not going to let my client accept the blame for any type of larceny when there’s no evidence he ever set foot in the New Haven Public Library where the paintings were supposedly held.”

The other man, who has not been arrested yet, stole the paintings and traded them for drugs, typically getting $30 to $40 worth of heroin per painting, police said.

Police say the man was caught on a video camera at the public library earlier this month concealing a painting in a bag. He was detained after he returned to the library a few days later, police said.

The center at Yale is not sure how the paintings were stolen, said Lina Zerbarini, associate rabbi and director of operations. She said the center will evaluate its security while trying to maintain a welcoming atmosphere.

The theft comes more than two years after a renowned dealer admitted he stole nearly 100 rare and expensive maps from libraries worldwide, including Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

David Gelernter’s art work often focused on Jewish themes. One of the stolen paintings was called “shma,” meaning to listen, and the other was called “neriah,” a word of praise. The two paintings had been sold for $40,000 to a Manhattan collector, Daniel Gelernter said.

Gelernter does not dwell on the bombing attack that also injured his right eye and chest, his son said. He’s working on a book about Judaism and a software project.

“He’s a boundless energetic creator,” his son said.

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s homemade bombs killed three people and injured 23 others from 1978 to 1995. Kaczynski is serving a life sentence without parole.

(This version CORRECTS that the man charged did not steal the paintings.)

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