Two years ago, I was on my way to school. I was waiting for the train in Bathurst Station, and as it was winter, I was wearing a hat and a long skirt and looked, I imagine, like the observant Jew I was at the time. I was approached by a nondescript-looking middle-aged man, who asked me for directions. I told him which train to take to go east, and we struck up a conversation. He asked me if I was Jewish; I said yes. He said he was from Israel; I asked where from.
“Tel Aviv; I have a restaurant there.”
“Oh, I have family in Ganei Tikva!”
By chance, his restaurant was quite nearby that neighbourhood! We chatted a bit more while waiting for the train, which was late in coming. Then he said, “Would you do me a favour?” And I became suspicious, but he was a fellow Jew, and seemed nice enough. I asked what it was he needed.
“Well, I’m on my way to the airport, but my credit card is Israeli and it won’t work here in Canada. Can I go with you to a bank and you withdraw some money and I’ll pay you back right then?”
Well, I’m no fool (generally speaking) and the answer was an unequivocal no. Not only was I late for a lecture, but this all was starting to seem odd. I refused. He said, “Don’t you want to do a mitzvah?” and he was oddly less genial that he had been five minutes prior. I walked away as he yelled something unprintable, and I made sure I was on a different train car than he.
I didn’t give this incident much more thought until this year, when I moved house. My new roommate, “E,” had a strikingly similar experience in 2011. While ill with a high fever, she’d ventured out to the grocery store and met a man there. He was an early-middle age Israeli man, and he fed her a similar story to mine. Delirious as she was, “E” ended up parting with more than a hundred dollars before coming to her senses and notifying the police. Unfortunately they could do nothing for her; the man and the money were long gone.
I was rather shocked when I heard this story, because incidents like this are a dime a dozen in a large city like Toronto. There’s always someone with a sob story on a train platform, and I’ve heard more than a few of them. I was sorry for my roommate, but put it out of my mind until recently, when I was informed that this mysterious man was apparently still pulling the same trick.
A woman named Meredith Halpern wrote a letter to the editors of the Canadian Jewish News describing the same story, which occurred just last week:
I sat in the subway station, looking over my Torah trope [sic], [and] a man sat down beside me and we began to chat. Who would have thought my photocopied pages of Hebrew text made me an easy mark. I heard about his wife, who had just had heart surgery, his five children in Israel, his parents who were killed in the war, and his bakery in Jerusalem. And through our discussions I learned that his wife required medication. His credit card was not working in Canada.
After I gave him several hundred dollars Canadian, he explained that the money would be returned to me the next day, when he was back in Israel. He didn’t return the money to me.
To be frank, it alarms me that some people are so easily taken in and it disturbs me even more that someone (cleverly, it must be said) is capitalizing on Toronto Jews’ community sentiment by taking advantage of us–to the tune of thousands of dollars. Whether it’s a restaurant in Tel Aviv or a bakery in Jerusalem, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like we needn’t fund this guy’s scamming any longer.
Please contact the Toronto police if you have information about this man. He is probably between 45 and 60 years old, with salt and pepper hair, an light olive complexion, and roughly 170 pounds at around 5’9″ (at least according to my own memory).
Editorial Update: The individual in question was recently apprehended. More information can be found about at the Toronto Star’s article.