With Streets Paved in Gold

Every summer since I was about 12 years old, I’ve worked in my father’s check cashing store. For those of you who don’t know how check cashing works, it’s basically banking for transient workers. Many times people receive checks, but do not have bank accounts to deposit the checks into. Other times, the banks hold the checks for somewhere between 7-14 days to verify it before dispensing funds, but the worker can’t wait a couple of weeks to get his money. That’s where check cashers come in. The workers bring their checks to the establishment, we verify that the check is legit-a process that some how takes us several minutes, yet takes banks several weeks-and give them the money, minus a small fee. Then, the check casher deposits the check into their own bank account.

I generally work in the verification department. I’ve learned a lot about check fraud from it, too. When the movie Catch Me if You Can came out, I wasn’t so surprised to see what he pulled off, as I had seen or heard about many of those schemes before. One extremely popular form of check fraud is for someone outside of America to send some sort of email explaining how they have unfortunately come into a difficult situation. They own a business in their home country that deals with international clients, and the clients send them checks that can only be deposited in the United States of America. These “business owners” propose that they will send the check to to this contact person, the contact person will cash the check and then wire the money to the business owner in the foreign country, keeping, of course, a small percentage for their troubles. It seems like a win-win situation to the unsuspecting contact person.

The problem is, of course, these checks are complete forgeries. Most check cashers can spot them right away, but apparently, there are still a few that can’t (or don’t). When the check is denied, its up to the one who cashed it to pay back the check, plus a fine, plus serve jail time if the police are called. The one who cashed it, however, doesn’t have the money anymore, as they have already wired it out of the country.

There is an older woman who works in my office, and when discussing this situation, she says, “It’s such a shame that these crooks play to the emotions of caring Americans. All these people want to do is help someone in an unfortunate situation, and they end up getting screwed over.”

For a while, that’s how I thought of the situation as well. That is, until yesterday, when I received such an email. The subject line didn’t read “please help me” or “my friend needs your assistance”. It said “Make $100, just by depositing a check.” For fear of viruses, I didn’t open up the whole email, but my email server shows a preview of the message. It was written in really bright, flashy, colors, with lots of exclamation points, and a decidedly upbeat attitude.

It was then that I realized, these people aren’t playing towards American’s emotions, they’re playing towards American’s greed. They’re not so naïve to think that Americans will really care about some poor suffering businessman in Nigeria, they know that the only thing on the minds of most Americans is how to make an extra buck or two. And by the popularity of their schemes, they seem to be right.

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On Not Being Able to Spend Money. Ever.

I have a confession to make.

I am a cheap Jew.

This may not surprise those of you who know me. You may have been frustrated with me when I got a glass of water when we went out for ice cream, or when I voted to rent a movie instead of drive to a theater, or when I buy off-brand groceries to save twenty cents. I apologize.

This is the way that I am, and I have [generally] learned to live with it.

I do very well on budgets. I feel like I have “won” if I am under budget.

I do not do well when I feel that money is being spent unnecessarily.

This is not a good character trait, especially when my roomate loves buying Bertolli pasta, Ben and Jerrys ice cream, Starbucks coffee, and Dannon yogurt. We started out buying groceries together. This did not last very long.

This is an even worse character trait when the money being spent is long term. Such as a student loan. Especially a loan that (I feel) is unnecessary.

I hate that my parents GIVE me money to spend on things like clothes, haircuts, and my car. They are not stingy at all, and many times tell me to get the top of the line (i.e. Get your car waxed twice a month, buy the fanciest clothes you can find for shabbos, spend the extra money to get the flight time that you want), yet also say that I will have to be the one to pay back my loans.

I don’t WANT all these luxuries. I’d rather graduate debt free and not have a car. That’s just not happening though. I “need” a car for when (2 or 3 times a semester) I drive to Baltimore. I “must” look nice l’kavod shabbos.

Last year, I was offered a full scholarship to Touro College, before I even applied. I thought about accepting it, briefly, but turned them down.

All things considered, I am MUCH happier here than I would be at Touro. It’s not even a question in my mind.

I did, however, have a breakdown tonight about how much money I will have to pay back when I graduate, and I wasn’t factoring in law school. It mad me think about Touro again.

I find my self repeating over and over “Beverly, you’d hate Touro. You would not learn anything there. Remember Darchei Binah? It’s worse than that. Beverly, think about how happy you are at Maryland. Think, Beverly, Think!!”

Shake your…checkbook

My good friend made a comment after shaking her 4 species* the other day. She said “What a silly mitzah. Not that doing it is silly, but you just feel so silly while you’re doing it.”

How true.

You kindof have to wonder what the rationale behind it is. Ok, we do it cuz God said so, but…why? It seems to me that succot comes in the fall. Ok, wait that didn’t come out right. It’s obvious that succot comes in the fall. It seems that the time of year is vitally signifigant to the underlying reason behind the mitzvah. Fall is the time of harvest. Many other cultures have harvest festials. In essense, succot is the time that we look at our produce and realize that it’s all from God. We have to take a moment from our excitement and thank God for allowing our crops to grow.

Untill recently, almost every society was highly dependant on agriculture. Most people either grew their own crops, or grew cash crops to sell, enabling them to buy other types of food to feed their families with. If the crops didn’t grow one year, you didn’t eat.

Nowadays, we have a somewhat different culture. We’re still dependant on agriculture, but not to the same extent. If florida has a bad year of Oranges, we can order from California instead. We may see tomatoes rise in price to over $3.00/pd., but we would never starve to death because of it. Thank God.

Today, we are much more dependant on business. I personally know day traders who committed suicide because the stock market went down that day. Our society is an economically minded one. We no longer care about the dividends of the field, rather, our interest is the dividends of the checkbook. With this in mind, maybe we can change the way we view sukkot.

Instead of thinking how silly it is that we are standing outside waving around a bunch of plants, we should imagine we are waving around our wallets, or laptop computers.

Succot is, in essence, a holiday of thanksgiving. Its the time where we look to God and say “Everything we have comes from you. Without Your graciousness, I wouldn’t have my cozy warm bed, or even my house. I wouldn’t have any food to eat, or money to buy food with. Thank You God, for providing me with sustenance.”

*It bothers me when people refer to the 4 species as “lulav and etrog”. What did the haddasim and aravot do that they don’t deserve to be included as well?