Following the recent rash of arrests in Lakewood over Medicaid and welfare fraud, an anonymous member of the Orthodox-Jewish community in the tri-state area penned the following op-ed to the broader community, laying out the case for keeping things kosher.
The op-ed is written in the form of a letter from “Kalman Ha’Ksil” (Kalman the Fool) to his friend “Chanoch Ha’Chochom” (Chanoch the Wise Man).
Dear Chanoch Ha’Chochom,
You’re a smart guy. Young and newly employed with a long future ahead of you; a future full of tough choices.
Let me tell you a bit about me, Kalman Ha’Ksil (Kalman the ‘Fool’):
I am employed in a full-time position and earn $75,000 in cash (‘off the books’). I do not pay any income or payroll taxes. I receive Medicaid, Foodstamps, and WIC all while living in a Section 8 apartment.
You may have heard of me and my ilk and assume we live the good life – receiving all of the government benefits while evading paying taxes to the IRS, and getting yeshiva tuition breaks and so on. If only you would know what my life really looks like. Yes, there is always more to the story.
My buddies and I are called ‘Ksils’ as we are typically oblivious to the bundle of troubles awaiting us down the road. I, on the other hand, am fully aware of the challenges of living the Ksil life. You see, I am a smart Ksil!
The Working Years
For starters, my friend Ksils out there often don’t realize that legal employees like hardworking Gavriel Ha’Gvir are protected in various ways. For instance, if Gavriel would become injured while on the job he would receive Worker’s Compensation checks until he gets better. If he became disabled anywhere else he would receive disability checks. Further, I doubt my fellow Ksils understand that if Gavriel was laid off from his job he would receive unemployment compensation checks for many months. (I know, all these checks will not make him rich, but it does help to get through the tough times.)
Oh yes, Gavriel the legitimate worker has many layers of protection should things go sour. Us Ksils, on the other hand, will have no income at all when we were unable to work or lose our jobs. Yes, as long as we’re working, life is good. But the minute things turn south we’re in big trouble. There is no safety net.
The Senior Years
And things get even worse for those ‘off the bookers’ like me.
I am smart enough to realize that there will be a day when I will be too old to work. Perhaps when I am 65, perhaps 70. I better hope I am disciplined enough to save up money for those years. Ksils like me should not be expecting any Social Security checks every month. Nor should we expect Medicare to cover my hospital visits or nursing home stays.
Ah, but even the most disciplined Ksils among us who would love to create an egg nest for the golden years are faced with a most basic problem: Where do I invest the money?
You see, every Ksil knows that the last thing you want to do is to put your cash in the bank or brokerage firm. Otherwise, the obvious red flag will be raised: “Where did you earn that money?” Game over! So, we resort to trying to figure out ways to ‘get rid’ of the cash by spending it. And, our life savings can be found in fireproof boxes hidden under our beds, in our freezers, and behind dressers. How safe and reassuring!
Because we Ksils have very low bank account balances and have limited usage of credit cards (since we spend our cash instead), we run into all sorts of problems when trying to lease a car or get a mortgage since our credit report is limited or nonexistent. (And forget about getting a bank loan if trying to open a business!)
Oh, and regarding buying a car or house, those sure can’t be registered under our name since that would mean letting the government know that we own assets, once again raising the obvious red flag: “Where did you earn that money?” Game over.
So, we Ksils reach out to family members and put the house under their name. Great plan, until you get into a dispute some years down the road and the legal owner evicts you from ‘his’ property! (I kid you not. These stories do happen!)
Of course, one of the most challenging problems for the Ksil community is even making the decision to move to a house in the first place. You see, because I live in a Section 8 apartment and save thousands of dollars in rent each year, I would have to be nuts to give that up and move to a house where I would need to start paying a monthly mortgage. The Section 8 apartment is where I will be with three, five, or eight kids. I am confined to it. I would not even move to another community if I feel the chinuch is better there because I can’t bring myself to give up a rent free apartment. The Section 8 apartment has effectively become my golden chains; my prison cell.
But perhaps the most persistent and serious issue we Ksils face is fear. Fear of the IRS. Fear of the government agencies who whose programs we are exploiting. Fear of becoming disabled or losing our job and not having any income (as described earlier). And fear of a break-in while out of town and the thief making off with the box of all our cash life savings.
You surely heard about some of my friends from shul. Gershon Ha’Ganev is now part of the growing Ksil minyan in Otisville (they, unfortunately, have an impressive kehilla), Reuven Ha’Ramai is paying thousands of dollars to accountants to salvage his IRS audit (the accountants are not too hopeful), and Shimon Ha’Shakran has been receiving letters from the Medicaid office demanding $45,000 for the past few years when Reb Shimon was lying about his income.
Truth is, you may not have heard of them. People tend to push these types of things under the rug to avoid embarrassment for their family. Yes, the government agencies have been getting much smarter in recent years and these types of stories are unfortunately happening more frequently…
Will I be next?
And, there are those times that I actually think about what is morally right and wrong.
Yes, it does bother me for a few fleeting moments when I hear my rov talk against stealing from the government. It does trouble me when I put on a poker face and convince the yeshiva administrator that I haven’t got any money for tuition. And, my conscience tugs at me when I consider that my truly destitute neighbor’s kid will not be able to attend the local Head Start program this year because my child took his slot.
It occurs to me, on occasion, that perhaps life is about more than exploiting holes to crookedly receive a couple of extra bucks.
So, I can hear you asking, if I am such a smart Ksil and know about the perils of living the ‘off the books’ life, why am I still doing it?
The answer, my friend, is that this lifestyle is like a drug. What begins as a short term plan ends up becoming a long term addiction. I, along with many of my Ksil friends, am stuck in the rut. Once you’re in the Ksil mode it is very difficult to get out of it.
What troubles me most is that my four children are growing up watching how I live. I am sure they inwardly laugh at the irony and hypocrisy when I tell them not to cheat in school or to speak the truth. Oh, how I hope they turn out better than me!
Well, now you know why we are called the “Ksils”. Unlike you, dear Chanoch Ha’Chochom, fools only see the here and now and do not anticipate future events. Like the tortoise who outruns the hare, those who play by the rules ultimately end up leading fulfilled, meaningful, and honorable lives.
I know, many Ksils out there will explain that they have figured out how to get around some of the issues I brought up. Some will point to other Ksils who made it through life without a problem. But that’s just how Ksils operate. Ksils believe they are the Chochom and are outsmarting the world. My my, how wrong they are…
So the next time you see a Ksil, please understand that he may have a very challenging and unfortunate life. More importantly, feel sorry for him that he most likely is not even aware of how bad his situation is!
Perhaps share this letter with him. He may still have time to straighten out his life.
“Answer a Ksil according to his foolishness, lest he view himself as a Chochom” (Mishlei 26:5)
Comments for the author may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.