There is a new scam afoot that specifically targets religious organizations, including many Jewish congregations.
Thieves create email addresses that look like they belong to the rabbi, and then use those addresses to write to congregants and ask for money, gift cards etc. Congregations from every Jewish denomination and across the nation have been targeted.
This doesn’t surprise me. It was bound to happen that scammers would target religious communities. The world is filled with people who wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, but there are always those who happily take advantage of others.
Scammers and thieves were on my mind when I picked up this week’s Torah portion, which mentions the “mixed multitude” who left Egypt with the Children of Israel when they fled from Pharaoh.
Who were they? The Torah doesn’t say, but the ancient rabbis considered them to be riff-raff at best, a criminal element at worst.
Later commentators were kinder; Rashi said they were an ethnically mixed group of converts. Ibn Ezra said they were Egyptians who hid among the fleeing slaves because their own land had been ravaged by the ten plagues.
But I wonder. Maybe they were just a bunch of other slaves who took advantage of the opportunity to flee. Maybe they too soared on eagles’ wings to freedom, and then went their own way, each performing his or her own particular task in the world. Maybe they each did their own part to make the world a better, safer, kinder place, for all people.
Criminals have been among us since time immemorial. Today they run the gamut, from sophisticated internet thieves to everyday pickpockets. They are every color, every gender, every nationality.
But in all cases, they are a minority. This is why I passionately believe that our nation must not turn away people who want to emigrate to America, simply because there might be criminals among them.
When my family came to America they were poor, working class people who didn’t speak the language. They struggled, learned English, and became citizen and patriots. I am grateful that they were not turned away or imprisoned, as so many others have been.
Riffraff or converts, the mixed multitude took it upon themselves to align with the Children of Israel, and to journey with them through the desert to the promised land. In the millennia since, we have continued to welcome strangers into our midst, remembering that we were strangers in Egypt.
Are there criminals in the world, people with bad intentions? Of course. We have to take appropriate precautions to protect ourselves. But fear of them can’t stop the rest of us from living our lives to the fullest. And it should not stop us from welcoming new immigrants to this nation.