There is nothing more Jewish than Passover, the holiday of hope. There is nothing more Russian than trying to get a little something extra from the U.S. government. So I thought I’d take this time leading up to Pesach to talk about my hope that the Russians who keep defrauding the government cut that out. They’re giving the rest of us a bad name.
Recently, the New York Times had a story on an insurance fraud ring in New York. It noted:
“This [crime ring], like many others, was rooted in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, the locus of the city’s Russian-speaking immigrant population, many of whom grew up under a Communist system that bred disdain for the rules and a willingness to cheat to get around them.”
This intense distrust of the government, combined with Jewish ingenuity, has led to some pretty interesting schemes. New York isn’t the only place where select Russian Jews have creatively interpreted Medicare law. For example, in my hometown of Philadelphia, Russian ambulance services are proving to be the most popular way to make a little extra on the side:
“Investigators say [Ivan] Tkach created a scheme to fraudulently bill Medicare by transporting patients by ambulance who were able to walk or travel by paratransit van. Over six years, prosecutors said, Tkach scammed Medicare out of $1.26 million.”
They’re not the only ones. In my weekly trips to the Russian grocery stores, I’ve seen women dressed in the standard Russian fur coat, Gucci sunglasses firmly planted on their freshly-dyed hair, pay for their groceries with food stamps and a straight face. All before taking their purchases out to their Lexus.
As someone whose family got off of food stamps and welfare as soon as they could after immigrating because they didn’t want to take advantage of America’s goodwill, this makes me extremely angry. On the other hand, you can’t help but applaud the chutzpah.
On the third hand, as Tevye would say, I really hope that the fact that American authorities have finally gotten smart enough to detect these white-collar crimes means that less of them will be happening. Because, as a Russian-Jewish hyphenated American, I’m getting tired of being associated with the regular Russian mafia, the Russian Medicare mafia, and, most frighteningly, women who wear fur coats and drive Lexuses.
My fantasy hope for Pesach is that Moses, no, Moshka, leads our people, the Russian Jews, out of the headlines (hopefully not into an ambulance if we can still walk.)
Vicki Boykis, 25, works in Philadelphia and is pursuing an MBA from Temple University. Her roots are in Belarussia and Russia. She immigrated from Yaroslavl in 1991 along with her family.
My Passover Wish for Russian Jews