rabbis

How I Played the Jewish Mother Guilt Card on a Phone Scammer

Retro black telephone on wood table with vintage green eye light wall background

A few weeks ago while I was preparing dinner, Dennis Quaid called me on the phone. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that Dennis Quaid—the actor with the twinkling eyes, square jaw, and charming smile. This Dennis Quaid’s accent was decidedly not from anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But this Dennis did have a very important message for me regarding some unspecified criminal offense I had committed against the Internal Revenue Service and the necessity of my standing before a magistrate.

In the past I’ve received the occasional peculiar phone call with promises of free cruises or inordinately huge sums of money. Hanging up was never a problem for me. I don’t have time or energy to waste dealing with scam artists. But on this particular evening, I became enraged.

Just a week before, Richard Dawson (most likely not the deceased British actor famous for his role on the game show “Family Feud”) called my mom, who was recuperating from surgery. Richard informed her that her computer was not working smoothly, and for $200, the company could remotely restore order to her software. Just let the computer specialist know her password, and the firewall would be lowered.

My mom never tells a lie and assumes other people share her integrity. Within minutes, someone had access to every personal file she possessed. I can only smile wryly when imagining these swindlers’ disappointment upon realizing that neither my mom’s credit card nor bank account numbers have ever once been displayed on her computer. She doesn’t even order from Amazon. I certainly hope these schemers enjoyed scrolling through thousands of photos of her grandchildren and reading her meticulously archived copies of weekly editions of “Ten Minutes of Torah” along with updates on the Metropolitan Opera.

On the heels of the violation against my mom, I became uncharacteristically confrontational. My kids watched, transfixed, as I fired back at the operator. The turkey burger meat I was preparing for dinner began drying into a sticky paste on my hand and the phone.

“I don’t think your real name is Dennis Quaid, sir,” was my opening volley. “And if the real IRS has a problem with me, I doubt that they’d summon me with a phone call. Shame on you!” I scolded.

The person on the phone protested and claimed that he was telling the truth. “How is it possible then, that you have made this identical call to everyone else I know, too? Just what are those odds that we all have committed the same mysterious crime? I bet you’re a pretty smart person. Don’t you think your mother would not want you to use your intelligence to trick people? I’m sure you are better than this.”

That’s right—I played the Jewish mother guilt card, and the operator wasn’t even my child.

A bit stunned to receive this unexpected lecture, the gentleman on the phone apologized and said he was going to find a better job. Then we hung up.

Later at dinner, I told my kids about one of my favorite rules in the Torah. It’s not about performing a ritual or refraining from eating a specific type of food for lunch. Plopped right in the center of the Torah scroll, we are commanded not to place a stumbling block in front of a blind person.

Whoever wrote that tiny piece of legislation certainly knew how grim human nature could be. These individuals making the calls were trying to trip me and everyone else, and we couldn’t see the entire picture. They weren’t just trying to sell heating oil or a carpet cleaning at an inopportune moment. These were true efforts to deceive, gather personal data, and use it for fraudulent purposes.

I was pretty proud of my success in standing up for truth and justice, until the next evening when I checked my messages and realized I had received yet another sham call. In an ironic reversal of roles, I stalked the robo-caller and left a message for him, again telling him to put me on a “do not call list.”

Someone “from the IRS” called me back almost immediately. Informing me that there is no “do not call list” for criminals such as myself, he then told me that I was a “bad person” and that the police were going to be at my home in 20 minutes to arrest me.

At first I laughed at him, then I started to broil with anger. “How dare you call my home and accuse me of lies. I hope the police come soon so that I can file a harassment report against you and all of the criminals who work with you to trick innocent people into divulging personal information. Don’t you ever call my home again! For every time you call me, I’ll call you 10 times, and you won’t be able to do your malevolent work,” I threatened wildly.

Sure, I was furious because of this invasion of my privacy and the false accusations, but I was also angry because my mom had been ill and doubly insulted that she had been so worried as a result of the invasion of her privacy.

I hung up and grilled the burgers, squeezing excess grease out of them with deep concentration. “Don’t put a stumbling block in front of a blind person,” I quoted from the Torah.

Sometimes it seems like a waste of energy to argue against evil in its less violent and more irritating incarnations. It’s so easy to become jaded and just hang up a phone and hope the next target won’t be gullible or get deceived. This time, I had some strength to push back against a fragment of darkness. I don’t regret giving those phone scammers a piece of my mind. And if they call me again, they’ll be hearing back from me. That’s as certain as death and taxes.


Read More:

3 Ways to Handle Your Toddler’s ‘Why Phase’

Mayim Bialik: Why I Refuse to Get My Kids Smartphones

Quiz: Which Celebrity Jewish Mother Are You?


Rabbi Sharon G. Forman

Rabbi Sharon G. Forman was raised in Norfolk, Virginia in a rabbinic family. Prior to her ordination as a Reform rabbi by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994 in New York, she earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Columbia Teachers College. She served as the director of education at Manhattan’s Temple Shaaray Tefila in the 1990’s before moving to Westchester, New York with her husband and children. She has published Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions (URJ Press, 2006), a chapter on the connection between Judaism and Breastfeeding in Lisa Grushcow’s The Sacred Encounter (CCAR Press, 2014), and most recently The Baseball Haggadah:  A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings (2015).

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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