Well, it was a coincidence.
This reporter was in the throes of being visited by a young rabbi friend who had come up for the express purpose of registering a personal protest against a statement to the effect that about half the “meshulachim” of foreign yeshivas and orphan asylums are swindlers.
A heated debate ensued. The rabbi argued that even if the statement is true, publishing it harms the bonafide solicitors. Besides, he denied that there was any truth in the assertion.
In the midst of the argument the doorbell rang. At the threshold stood a bearded old gentleman in frayed overcoat and “yarmelke.” He let loose a torrent of Yiddish about a yeshiva in Warsaw he was collecting money for. We tried to hide the gleam in our eye, and invited him in.
Asked for credentials, he exhibited an ornately engraved certificate which attested to the fact that he was an accredited representative. A steady stream of words poured from his glib mouth. We interrupted him.
“You’re a crook!” we said in an authoritative tone.
He blanched a bit and began to back toward the door. Intercepting him, we told him that we would turn him over to the police unless he answered some questions. He shrugged his shoulders and seated himself nervously on the edge of a couch.
The rabbi appeared stunned. We weren’t quite sure we were doing the right thing but resolved to go ahead with the bluff.
“Now, I know you’re a crook,” we said, trying to look tough, “but tell me where you got that certificate.”
The solicitor hesitated for a moment and gulped. We tried to look even tougher, and he started to speak.
His speech was long and wavering. The upshot of it was that three years ago he sent a donation to the yeshiva in Warsaw. In return he received a letter of profuse thanks. Then he wrote again informing the yeshiva authorities that he could afford no more, but would be glad to collect money if provided with the proper credentials. The credentials came through, and he started a thriving business.
Every month, he said, he sent a few dollars to the Yeshiva. The rest he kept. Eager to show that he wasn’t the only swindler, he volunteered the information that one of his friends got a certificate of authorization by the same means, but made a number of photo static copies and advertised in Yiddish papers for solicitors with whom he shared his gains.
The old gentleman was mopping cold sweat from his brow, and we let him go. With an I-told-you-so look in our eye, we beckoned to the rabbi to follow us, and we canvassed the other apartments in the house to find out how much the meshulach had received. The amount was $2.30.
It was not found necessary to continue the debate.
D. L. S.