Even the professional beggar has found a way to make it in the digital age.
In a recent piece for the Magazine section of the New York Times, writer Mark Oppenheimer shed light on one Elimelech Ehrlich, a professional beggar from Jerusalem who makes a pilgrimage once per year to Lakewood, New Jersey.
Ehrlich stays for about three weeks, and during that time, he begs. But his begging is a bit more “with it” than what you would find on a New York street corner.
Instead of carrying around a small cup, he goes all out and carries both a cash box and a wireless credit card machine.
The 51-year-old Ehrlich uses “one part humor, one part not taking no for an answer” to extract donations from his supporters, Oppenheimer notes.
“I say: ‘If you don’t have anything, at least give something! Better than not giving at all!’ I ask them, ‘Give me 100 dollars, I’ll give you back 99 shekels!'”
(A shekel is worth around 30 cents, meaning that Ehrlich would give back $29.70 if you would be so kind as to give him a $100 bill.)
“They give a dollar or two, sometimes they give five,” he said.
The professional beggar likes to use humor to soften up his donors, Oppenheimer notes, adding that most of them are students at the yeshiva (or school) of Beth Medrash Govoha.
“For years, Ehrlich has made a circuit of yeshivas in Israel’s religious cities, like Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, offering his Yinglish patter to pious students in exchange for a few shekels,” Oppenheimer writes. “About 12 years ago, he was working the grounds of the Mir, a large school in Jerusalem that is popular with Americans studying abroad, when somebody suggested that he travel to Lakewood, where American students at the Mir often settled on their return home.”
One thing you certainly have to give Ehrlich: He definitely knows his audience and sees a market there. With his ability to talk these students out of their shekels, he also offers something of a product — warm and engaging conversation.
In that sense, it may not be fair to call him a professional beggar at all. Nevertheless, it is his “trade,” and it’s unusual to see someone in this trade using a cash box and a wireless credit card machine.
What do you think, readers? Should a professional beggar who can afford such a setup be allowed to do what he does?
[Image via ShutterStock]