Israel Lite: Sophisticated beggars of Tel Aviv

I felt so satisfied, so righteous. I felt like Sarah in the desert, patting out some pitot for the angels under the trees

sofistcate beggar image  (photo credit: )
sofistcate beggar image
(photo credit: )
I felt so satisfied, so righteous. I felt like Sarah in the desert, patting out some pitot for the angels under the trees Give a little, give a lot, give time, talent and money. I learned it from my parents, and hopefully our eight kids have learned it from Ari and me. We have our favorite charities, our favorite causes, and of course, our favorite rabbi. We always have cash for the campaign season when brigades of kids come knocking, and we even have money for the beggars on the street. We know for a fact that our kids do the same, because we've seen them. Besides, all of us are suckers for a sad story. And Ari always opens his wallet to fish around for a couple hundred shekels when he sees a soldier or a mother in distress. I like that about Ari. But now, me and bums, that's another story. I was in the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, hungry and anxious to get home. I purchased two rolls, one for now and one for the bus. I waited there as a group of us gathered, and had eaten about half of my bread when I was approached by a beggar. He spoke to me in Hebrew. I didn't understand him, but the outstretched, rather dirty hand told the story. I had just spent my last change on these two pieces of still warm bread. All I had left was my debit card. "I'm sorry," I murmured in English, "I have no kesef. Lo kesef, lo kesef." "I'm hungry," he said in flawless English. "I'm sorry," I said again, "I have no change on me today." "Bills are okay," he said. I shook my head. "Sorry, I have no money on me at all." The people around me were saying in Hebrew (which I understand but can't speak) not to talk to him. The more they said it, the more he persisted to engage me in conversation. "I'm so hungry," he said. Du-uh. Me, I'm slow. I didn't have money, but a hungry man and one warm roll equals a doable solution. "I'm sorry," I said, reaching into the bag, "I don't have money, but here, you can have this other roll." I felt so satisfied, so righteous. I felt like Sarah in the desert, patting out some pitot for the angels under the trees. The bum, though, he was indignant. You should have heard the laughter of the other passengers when the bum tossed my lovely, saved-for-the-bus-ride roll into the dirt and walked off, disgusted. Ah, live and learn. But that doesn't top it all. My daughters have a little restaurant where they make it a practice to give to the beggars who come in daily. With a couple of the really down-and-outers they have an agreement: If you're hungry, come around the back and we'll feed you, but don't approach our customers. There are still the ones who insist on coming inside and approaching every customer, who hold out their hands and wait until a donation materializes. Some of them grab your heart; they're elderly or confused. One distracted the girl at the cash register with a bait-and-switch type of order after she had the register open. She turned to call out the order and he vanished. With their cash. All in a day's work, I guess. With a couple of the bums, the girls told them, "Drop by when the place is empty, and we'll give you a fiver." They did. Strangely enough, even when there were signs in the window seeking dishwashers or cleaners or waiters, these guys never applied. But they came every day looking for their NIS 5 piece. The hutzpa of some people's children! Two of the regulars began bargaining with the girls. "If you just give us NIS 20, we won't come back for a few days." The girls were steadfast that they wouldn't do it, and ultimately a friend of theirs, a burly guy from the UK, chased them off and told them not to come back. Then came the ultimate in beggar's protocol. A customer of the restaurant brought the girls a huge bag of coins that he didn't want to count, roll and turn in at the bank for cash. "It's a gift for you girls, do whatever you want with it." It was filled with agorot and even NIS 1, NIS 5 and NIS 10 coins, but mostly 5, 10 and 50 agorot coins. They estimated there was more than NIS 200 in the bag. They stored it under the bar for a rainy day. When the first of the day's beggars came in, rather than reaching into the register for a handout, Miriam reached under the bar and grabbed a fistful of change. She spilled it into the bum's hand, thinking he would be pleased. "What's this then?" he said, indignant. "I don't take small coins." He turned the coins onto the bar. "I prefer folding money." "Nope," she said, "it's the coins or nothing. Our accountant said so." "Well, I don't take coins," he sniffed, and left the restaurant. The girls looked at each other, amused. "Maybe we're on to something," Nitza said to Miriam. They high-fived each other. The "regulars" came and went, and all refused to take the agorot, never mind that mixed in with the change were coins of substantial value. The girls became bolder and bolder, telling them the accountant was making them give only coins and nothing from the register. The bums believed this ruse. Could it be that they have accountants, too? The most persistent of the bums came several days in a row, and was offered only a handful of change from the bag. "You can reach in yourself and take the coins," Miriam offered. "Your hand is bigger than mine." "I don't want it." He stood there for a minute, perplexed. Then he asked what I think was meant to be a rhetorical question. "What should I do?" "Get a job," they said in unison. He hasn't returned.