“Do you speak Hebrew?” an Israeli asked me in Logan Airport where I was about to board a flight from Boston to Los Angeles. He looked in his fifties, was slightly sweaty and upset. I said yes, surprised that I’d be asked that in Boston where Hebrew had to be far less common than West Los Angeles where I live and hear it often. It was 2 p.m. “Actually, I do,” I said.
He gushed in Hebrew. Thank God. He’d been there since six in the morning, had lost his debit card, needed to take an Amtrak from Boston to Washington DC where he lived and didn’t have money for the ticket. He asked for my phone number and quickly called my cell with a 202 Washington, DC area code. My phone rang so I had his number. Then on his phone he showed me the Amtrak site and the cost for the train from Boston to Washington DC — $177. He had to get to South Station soon to make the train.
I asked, what happened to the debit card. He explained he bought a drink on board his flight and slipped it in the pouch in front of him. How can I buy you a train ticket in the airport? “Kesef mezoman,” he said. It sounds less abrupt in Hebrew. In English it’s “cash.”
I carry a credit card, but rarely have my debit card with me, prefer to keep it at home. The exception is when I travel, so my debit card was in my wallet. He walked me to an ATM machine nearby. As I put in my card, he asked for maybe a little extra for food. I took out $200 and gave the money to him along with my card so he could mail me a check.
It seemed such an insignificant sum, I didn’t much consider that it could be a scam. On the flight home, I did think that few people travel with only a single debit card and I could have asked him to open his wallet and see what lurked there. I’m very prompt about such things and expected the check to arrive quickly. Eleven days passed and then I called the 202 number. A recorded voice informed me that the number had been changed, disconnected or was no longer in service.
I have biases and prejudices. If about anybody else, other than a fellow Jew — it is not material to me that he was Israeli — had approached me for the money, I’d have said no. But for me Jews are a family and that’s why I said yes. I tell myself that I want to be that guy who gives money to help a fellow Jew rather than be so mistrustful that I decline. Better to give and lose.
However, I’m not so sure what I’ll do next time, beyond a far more rigorous interrogation of his situation. Take out by card or turn away? I’d like to think I’d reach out with my wallet again. I’m not so sure that I will.