A woman entered a bank in Bnei Brak and waited on line to withdraw some money. When her turn came, she asked the teller for 300 shekels from her account. The teller punched in her account number and politely explained that he couldn’t give her the money because she was already over her limit. The woman insisted that she needed the money, and the teller remained calm but firm, explaining that he was not authorized to withdraw any more funds until she deposited money into her account.
The customer was distraught, and without seeming to realize it, she raised her voice so that everyone could hear. “Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” she started shouting. “It’s only 300 shekels, and I need it to purchase basic groceries. Please! Right now, I know that we’re in a bad situation, but we’ll pull out of it sooner or later, and in the meantime, I don’t have money for food! I really need the money!” But the bank teller was not having it. He lost his patience and snapped back at her, “This is not a charity organization. This is a bank, and we have rules and policies that I’m not authorized to violate. The bank has been very generous until now, and we’ve sent you numerous letters and reminders that were ignored. There is no way that I can withdraw another shekel from your account!” All eyes in the bank were fixed on them now.
The woman was mortified and stood still with shock and embarrassment. Suddenly, she walked past the teller and straight into the manager’s office. Looking at the surprised manager, she burst into tears. “How could you employ such a hard-hearted man? What did I ask for? Three hundred shekels? I’m not asking for luxuries, but the basics to pay the grocery store. Why did he have to shout at me in front of everyone? What gave him the right to tell everyone my story and humiliate me in public?”
The manager was horrified at the teller’s conduct. He told the woman that she was right and apologized profusely on behalf of the bank and the teller, while explaining that regardless of their genuine sympathy for her plight, they were still bound by the bank’s policies. The woman was not placated, and she jumped up from her seat and stormed out of the office in tears.
The manager called out for her to wait, and he opened his wallet and took out 300 shekels to give to her, but she shook her head and refused to accept it. She ran out of the bank and never returned.
The manager walked wearily back into his office and, as he passed his associate’s desk – another employee of the bank – he saw the associate wiping tears from his eyes. This was strange, thought the manager; he’d never seen his co-worker cry.
“What happened?” he asked in concern. The man blew his nose and finally replied, “In my life, there’s one trauma from my youth that I never got over, and this image still haunts me, 40 years later. I was a little boy, around eight or nine, and my mother took me to the grocery store. We didn’t have money, and my mother was always very careful about what she put in her shopping basket – bread, milk, a little cheese, a few vegetables – and then she asked the grocer to put it on her account.
“‘Your account?’ the grocer answered with a grimace. ‘Lady, you’re way past that. Do you have any idea how much money you owe already? You haven’t paid your bill in months. I’m not going to put another thing on credit. Either pay for the food now, or put everything back on the shelves. I’m not a bank, and I can’t afford to let customers take food for free!’
“My mother pleaded anxiously. ‘Right now, things are tight, but everything will work out in the end, you’ll see! Look, it’s not like I took anything expensive, just the very basics. Bread, milk, and cheese.’ Her tone was so pathetically imploring that I remember cringing. But the grocer refused to listen and began taking the items out of her cart and placing them on the counter. ‘Pay for it or leave.’ With her pockets empty and her heart shattered, my mother took me by the hand and left the store. As soon as we were outside, she burst into tears, unable to hold back any longer, and hurried home with me.
The bank associate paused to a moment. “I’ve never forgotten the scene. It was seared into my heart with the agony and helplessness that only a child can feel watching his mother – his rock and security – crumble. But today, when I saw the same scene unfold right before my very eyes, I suddenly recognized the woman. That grocer was her father. Do you understand? Forty years after that man shamed my mother, his own daughter doesn’t have money for the basics.”
(Generations of Tears, by Tzvi Nakar)