Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fear and Annoyance in the City of Gold

OK, so when I said that the next post would be about why Eilat is not a great place to spend Shabbat if you observe Shabbat, I was wrong. First I want to write about the crazy evening I had yesterday.

Last night I went to Yael's place for dinner. On the way home, while I was walking on Bustanai Street at 8:10 pm, I saw a car suddenly stop in front of a house. The driver stepped out of the car, threw something over the car and over the gate of the nearest house, got back into the car, and quickly sped off in reverse up the street.

The package he'd thrown into the garden looked just like a newspaper rolled up in the typical white plastic covering, but who'd be delivering a newspaper at 8:10 in the evening? Maybe it was a bomb? I've always had a feeling that the terrorists might start up with private homes in Jerusalem, rather than sticking to public and crowded places. They want nowhere to be safe, right? So why not target a house on quiet Bustanai Street?

Or maybe it was the mafia? Have I been watching too many movies, or could it really be a bomb?

Either way, I wasn't about to stick around, and I wasn't about to let that house blow up when I could've prevented it. So I walked to the end of the street and called the police from my cell phone. I told them what I saw, explained that it might be nothing but it sure looked strange to me, and tried to describe which house it was. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of street lamps on Bustanai, so I hadn't been able to see the house number.

So then of course I had to wait around for the police to show up. It took a surprisingly long time, about 15 minutes. The house could've blown up several times before they got there. But finally they came, and a police officer walked with me up Bustanai so I could show him what house it was. He shined his flashlight into the garden, where we saw . . .

Two rolled-up newspapers, still in their packages.

"What kind of newspaper comes at 8:10 at night?!?" I asked.

"The Globes," the officer responded.

Turns out everyone in Jerusalem knows about The Globes and how it's delivered at night, but did Chayyei Sarah, the new immigrant know? Of course not.

I apologized to the police officer for wasting their time, but he was really nice about it. He said "We are happy you called. We're glad the public is alert. Don't feel bad. This is our job." etc etc. and I went home.

By the way, if you live in 14 Bustanai Street, you should really bring in your newspapers.

Anyway, I got home and started tooling around on my computer. About half an hour later there was a knock at the door.

Someday I might write another post about the internal conflict I have in Israel about opening my door to strangers. Not everyone here is a good guy, you know. I'm not talking about terrorists. I'm talking about burglars, drug addicts, burglars, burglars, and burglars. Oh, and thieves. Yet, often the person at the door is legitimate, and often due to my lack of Hebrew I can't tell who it is until I open the door. So I'm often in a bind.

Last night I opted to open the door. It was a man in his late forties or so with a big black yarmulka, telling me a sob story about how he lives on my street, his newborn son needs a new liver, and here is the medical paperwork showing that the story is for real, and they have to fly to Boston tonight for emergency surgery (a transplant, maybe), and the Bostoner Rebbe is helping them, but they have to pay for the plane ticket, and he is asking the neighbors to help pay for the plane ticket.

I've met con artists before, and they are often just as convincing as this guy, so I knew not to give him any money unless and until I verify his story. The fact that he'd mentioned the Bostoner Rebbe gave me pause and made me believe that he might be telling the truth. The Bostoner Rebbe founded an incredible organization called Rofeh International, which provides kosher housing and medical referrals for Jews who come to Boston from all over the world for the world-class hospitals there. How do I know? Because I'm from Boston. I'm not just from Boston, I'm the daughter of people who were married by the Bostoner Rebbe. The Bostoner Rebbe kindly wrote me a recommendation for Michlalah when I was 17. But how many Israelis know about Rofeh? Maybe this guy was for real.

And if he was for real, it would be a real shame for me to shut the door in his face.

So I asked him all sorts of questions about who I could call to verify. He hemmed and hawed, but it was hard for me to tell whether it's because he's a con artist (most likely) or whether he's a stressed-out person speaking in Hebrew, and not terribly bright, either (possible). The paperwork he was holding proved nothing to me because I couldn't understand it. The fact that his National ID Card had the same name as the medical paperwork proved nothing other than that he had some connection to these (possibly phony) documents. He said that his son was no longer at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital because they were leaving for the airport (uh, huh), and the people at the Rebbe's wouldn't know his name, because it was his wife who'd been dealing with them.

Right, whatever. His ID card had the name of his wife, and certainly they'd know the name of the baby, correct? I got his address (which, even now, I think might actually be his real address - he's such an idiot), told him that I'm from Boston, that I'll call the Rebbe's, and that I'm a journalist, and I know how to check things out, and that if he's for real I will come over to his house in 15 minutes and give him a generous donation. He left, looking a little shocked -- maybe because he's stressed out or maybe because he hadn't banked on my being a journalist from Boston-- and I got on the phone.

I called Rofeh. The woman who answered asked how my parents are doing and then put another lady on the phone to help with my question. She also asked how my parents are doing, and is this Sarah or Rivka (my sister), and how is Rivka doing? After all the catching up, I explained the story, and Freydie told me that no, she's not aware of any baby with liver problems, in Boston or scheduled to come to Boston, connected with Rofeh.

Then I called Hadassah Ein Kerem's pediatric unit. They said they'd never heard of the family name in question, though perhaps the baby simply hadn't been in pediatrics, but in another unit. Still, there was only so much work I was willing to do to verify this story after Rofeh had already told me it's a scam as far as they know.

I thought about calling the police to tell them about this con artist trolling my neighborhood.

But if this American woman named Sarah suddenly calls the police twice in one night, the police would probably think I'm a wierdo, don't you think?

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