Friday, April 08, 2011

Schnorring for Jailbirds

A while ago I received a letter in the mail asking for money. Nothing new there; I always get missives soliciting funds for this or that poor family whose breadwinner fell on hard times due to the recession, chronic illness or perhaps he can't get a decent job because he never got a decent education. You see, sitting all day learning Torah does not prepare you for the job market. And sitting all day doing whatever is not conducive to good health. And having many children bli ayin hara with no visible means of support predisposes you to all sorts of stress-related diseases. But this particular letter hit a new low: they are asking for donations to aid the families of Jewish prison inmates, as well as the inmates themselves. Now, these ehrliche yidden are not in jail because they plunked themselves down in front of the Soviet mission. Nor are they there for running a red light. They are there because they committed serious crimes - in some cases felonies. My reaction was not pity but anger: How dare you do what you did, disgrace our people and then ask for charity? How dare you? Here is the text of the letter:

The letter's "poster child" is a teary-eyed little girl whose father is serving a five-year prison sentence for tax evasion. It is stated right up front, without a trace of shame, as if it was normal for Jews to go to prison for cheating on their taxes. As if it was mutar (religiously permissible) to steal from the government, especially our benevolent government. The accompanying material speaks of children suffering for their parents' mistakes. Mistakes? Those parents did not know what they were doing? You don't go to jail for honest mistakes on your tax return. You pay what you owe plus penalties and interest and - finished. The organization's website speaks of providing legal services so that "poverty never dooms one to prison." Guess what? For centuries we lived in grinding poverty under tyrannical Jew-hating regimes where there was no opportunity for economic advancement, and few if any of us went to prison for stealing from the government. Imagine the pogroms that would ensue if they had! And now, in this enlightened country? It's almost routine for Jews to be caught in all manner of white-collar crimes. We are treated on a regular basis to "religious" Jews in full "uniform" - black coat, black hat, the works - led away in handcuffs with the TV cameras rolling. Oh, these families don't have TVs in the house, or computers. Well, guess what? The rest of the world does and the hillul Hashem is incalculable. There is a kosher food program in prison, daily minyanim, Daf Yomi classes, ad infinitum ad nauseam. Prison officials have been fired for giving Jewish inmates special privileges not available to other inmates; one inmate was allowed to host his son's Bar Mitzvah celebration in jail. We are asked to take pity on the criminals' wives, "living as widows with no end to their grief." I find it hard to believe that those wives had no inkling of their husbands' chicanery. For these people it's okay to cheat "the dumb goyim," as long as you don't get caught. Well, guess what? Those "dumb goyim" are not as dumb as you think. And some of the IRS and FBI detectives are Jews, and some are even observant Jews. Why not? It's a living, and an honest one. And when someone cheats on his taxes he's picking the pockets of all honest taxpayers who have to pay more to make up for his thievery. Chances are excellent that you will be caught, you will be sent to prison, you will disgrace your family. And when that happens, don't you dare to add insult to injury by schnorring for charity. There is a word for that: chutzpah. We have urgent needs of our own, like providing honestly for our own families in this economy. We Americans have a saying: If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.

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