Chance for a good deed or just a nuisance

There's no escaping Wailing Wall beggars, you cannot miss them, and they won't miss you.

begger 88 (photo credit: )
begger 88
(photo credit: )
You cannot miss them, and you can be sure they will not miss you. They have become as ubiquitous as the security personnel manning the Jerusalem holy site. They pester passers-by - sometimes aggressively - in both Hebrew and English. It is almost impossible for a visitor to the Western Wall to get to the prayer site without being stopped by a platoon of beggars rattling change in their hands or dangling ribbons in his your face. The year-round situation is exacerbated during the peak summer season, when hundreds of thousands of visitors throng to Israel's number one tourist destination, and ahead of the High Holy Days, when the issue of charity-giving plays big on the minds of observant Jews as a way to repent for one's sins. The cluster of beggars near the Western Wall on Tuesday extended even beyond the Western Wall plaza itself into the area allocated for prayer, making it impossible to either enter or exit the site without encountering a half dozen beggars, separated only, like the area of the Wall allocated for prayer, by sex. "They are really brazen and half of them are fakes anyway," said Pazit Gueta, 32, who was visiting the Wall with her family from the Tel Aviv area. Gueta added that the beggars at the site alert each other to people who give out charity, with one female beggar egging another to get out of her seat at once after she was given a NIS 200 bill. The male beggars at the entrance to the Western Wall Tuesday evening - standing next to a sign reading "Please respect the sanctity of the Wall" - were stopping every visitor entering the holy site, with many people handing them a couple coins. Tzvi Rosby, 30, of Beit Shemesh passed by one of the beggars, choosing instead to drop several coins into a box labeled "Charity for the Maintenance of the Wall" at the entrance to the site. "Here at least I know where it is going," Rosby said. He recounted a previous experience in which he gave charity to one of the beggars at the Wall, only to be physically assaulted by two others seeking donations. "I didn't want to have a repeat situation," he said. Other visitors to the Western Wall were indifferent to the sight of the beggars at the holy site, having grown accustomed to what has become a fixture in the area over the years. "You could say that this is part of the scenery at the Western Wall," said Evyatar Darashi, 19, of Petah Tikva. "It just makes you feel more connected to the holy site," he said, recounting, with the help of a friend, the High Holy Day prayer that repentance, prayer and charity overturn evil decrees. Others said that the beggars' strategic positioning at the foot of the Western Wall area was a cynical exploitation of the holy site and the commandment to give charity. One visitor, who declined to give his name, said he was accosted for "only" giving NIS 20. "This is complete hypocrisy," said Esther Cohen, 56, of Jerusalem, motioning to a beggar with a cigarette dangling from his mouth who was standing near a table where young religious men were urging Jewish visitors to don phylacteries at the entrance to the holy site Monday. "They should all be at work," she said. Some tourists said that the scene was much to be expected. "Personally, they don't bother me, and I don't see why they bother other people," said David Kastel, 36, of Paris, who was vacationing in Israel with his family. Kastel noted that the beggars clearly were targeting tourists at the site. "There is no better living," he quipped. The Jerusalem Municipality said Monday that the beggars at the Wall usually do not want support offered to them by city social workers. "The city's welfare department offers these beggars assistance, but this population is not always interested in their support," Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gidi Schmerling said in a statement. "Beggars can be found in all public places," said Gilad Bar, 45, of Kfar Tavor who was visiting the Wall with his child. "Whoever is at peace with oneself will give when he sees fit," he concluded.