Preying on the Aged
I know an elderly couple in Yerushalayim. An extremely independent pair. Very young for their age. Live alone. Drive their own car. Totally self-sufficient. Entertain extensively. Handle their own affairs.
They are in their mid-eighties and have lived in Israel for about eighteen years. All their children live here too. She doesn't speak any Hebrew, only English; he speaks a reasonable amount of Hebrew, Yiddish as well as English, but often feels intimidated using Hebrew.
The lack of Hebrew ability doesn't seem to bother her too much. She tried a couple of ulpans when she first arrived here, but she just didn't seem to catch onto the local lingo. She decided back then that she can make it in Israel's capital without Hebrew.
They use English speaking tradesmen. If she goes into a shop where they don't understand English, she simply finds another that does. There are plenty of fish in the sea. They have many friends in a similar boat -- they all pool their resources and manage very well.
So it was bit of a surprise that, when they recently needed some simple carpentry jobs performed in their apartment, they did not ask their anglo friends, nor their kids, for a recommendation. Instead they phoned an unknown carpenter who had the previous day stuffed a Hebrew flyer into their letterbox.
The carpenter arrived, wearing a black kippa on his head (you'll soon see why this piece of racism is relevant to our story). He speaks no English.
Our couple show the stranger around their apartment -- three things needed to be repaired. The formica on a cupboard door was coming off. "I can replace the door for 800 shekels or glue it down for 400". A wooden window latch needed to be repaired, not replaced, "That will cost you 600." And the tracks on a drawer in the laundry were badly corroded and needed to be replaced. "800 shekels".
The couple knew they were being raped, but for some reason couldn't get the words "Thank you but no thank you" out of their mouths and agreed to allow for the work to commence.
The work was completed and our couple, angry with themselves, knowing full well they had been ripped off, wrote out a cheque for 1,800 shekels. No receipt. They were just glad to see their "visitor" leave.
Their son happened to drop in just a few minutes later. He was horrified.
There is a television programme in Israel called "Who is Righteous (tzaddik)?" The producers "break" something small in an appliance, motor vehicle, etc. Disconnect a wire, loosen a pipe. Then they call in some tradesmen, filming them at work, including their charging process.
Gabby called our carpenter's cellphone saying that he is a producer from the show. He requested the tradesman return to the elderly couple's house. Which he did, very promptly.
The carpenter justified himself by saying, "I told them the price before I carried out the work".
"Don't you think your pricing is a little unreasonable, a little bit of a rip-off? That while you may have told them the price, you acted at least a 'little' immorally?"
"Perhaps, but I told them the price. They agreed to it before I started the work", a mantra which he was to repeat a number of times in the ensuing events.
He didn't budge, but suggested he would "ask his rabbi" whether perhaps he had done anything wrong.
Some distractive small talk. "By the way, are you from Efrat?", asks the tradesman.
"I do a lot of work in Efrat."
The next day the tradesman called Gabby to let him know that his rabbi said he had done nothing wrong. However he did advise him to give 10% of the amount to charity. What a wonderful rabbi. Any rabbi would have told him to give a 10% tithe to charity from anything he earned. Our generous tradesman added that he may in fact decide to give 20% of his own volition -- more than the rabbi had suggested. "Anyway, I cannot return your cheque -- I have already passed it on, to someone else."
Is a little guilt beginning to appear? Who needs you give charity on my behalf?
Even Jill gets involved, ringing the phone number on the flyer. "I was at an Efrat wedding last night. Everyone was talking about this carpenter who does work in Efrat and who takes advantage of old people."
"It's NOT true, not a word of it. Don't believe what they say", yells an angry wife into her mouthpiece; and abruptly hangs up.
Gabby and his father decide to drop the issue. Rebbe gelt is the Yiddish expression for this type of occurrence. You swallow your pride and put it down to experience. "Next time you need something done in the house, you call me or my brother -- ok?!"
Well not really OK. Gabby's father later confesses to his older son that he had actually written a cheque for 4,800 shekels! How did the sum jump by 3,000? I guess the old man felt intimidated, he just wanted to get this guy out of his house, out of his sight, no matter what. He wants 4,800. Just take it and get out of my house! Go!
The older son happens to also be a carpenter [though nonpracticing]. The work was shoddy. The formica on the door had already come unstuck just two days later, and nails were used where any 'real' carpenter would have used screws.
The family goes into action. A nephew rings our carpenter friend. "I am a building contractor with over fifteen years experience [true] and I am also a lawyer [he can't practice Law, but he does have a master's law degree] and I have connections with the Jerusalem Tax office [maybe -- they'll talk to anyone with 'information']. If you don't return 4,000 shekels, it's going to cost you 40,000 and more. This isn't the first time you've not given a receipt."
Our couple also have a cousin, who really is a practicing attorney, working at one of Israel's largest and most prestigious law firms. She's writing a letter too. Just receiving a letter from a lawyer from this company will send shivers up the carpenter's lawyer's spine, should he have a lawyer.
The carpenter (believe it or not, so far no-one knows his name -- his flyer only lists his first name and his unnamed wife's cell number) seems to be breaking. He agrees to return 4,000 shekels -- in cash.
But not personally. He'll send someone with the money.
Soon after, the carpenter arranges with one of our couple's sons to meet his wife later today. Episode finished? No, not yet. The good lady calls back to say she wants to first consult with her rabbi. This evening's meeting is on hold.
Good "breaking" news! The 4,000 was just handed over. The lady arrived at the agreed-upon spot with the full amount, in cash. "It's Hodesh Elul, the month of repentance. I don't want to say anything about this. I don't want to discuss it at all. Don't speak to me. You've got what you want." And off she disappears into the night.
Eight hundred shekels is still a lot of money for just over an hour's work, even it were not substandard.
But it's a lot better than the original amount handed to the carpenter.
Please feel free to
and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.