How the Bar Refaeli case raised the standard for Jewish mothers


“Don’t do the crime if your mom can’t do the time.”

Bar Refaeli (photo credit: Courtesy)

Bar Refaeli

(photo credit: Courtesy)

We Jewish moms really try to do everything we can for our kids. And now, Tzipi Refaeli has set the bar (pun intended) higher than ever before, since she is going to prison in her daughter Bar Refaeli’s tax evasion case, in a deal that was announced Tuesday.

Bar Refaeli, the Israeli supermodel who has graced the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue of 2009, signed a plea bargain agreement Tuesday in her long-running tax evasion case, in which she agreed to pay a hefty fine and millions in back taxes, as well as perform community service. But her mother, Tzipi Rafaeli, who worked as her business manager, will serve 16 months behind bars.

While it’s not unusual for the accountants and managers who have aided in perpetrating a tax fraud to get prison time, normally, if the case is serious enough for the bean counters to go to jail, it’s serious enough for the tax evader to do time behind bars as well. That’s what happened to actor Wesley Snipes, and many other offenders.

Legalities aside, what’s a bit different here is that it was portrayed in the media as if Tzipi offered herself up in place of her daughter, who is herself a Jewish mother with three young children. “Bar Refaeli’s Mother Takes Jail Sentence in Her Place” read the Ynet headline, and it was typical of the media coverage.

It’s a punishment that could make for a lot of interesting domestic debates. The morning after the plea deal was signed, I looked up from the newspaper and said to my son, “Look, if you want to break the law, it’s your choice…” – I always encourage him to think independently –“…but I won’t go to prison for you like Bar Refaeli’s mom is doing for her.” He gave me an I-couldn’t-be-less-interested look. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said and went back to his oatmeal.

Meanwhile, my mind was racing: Maybe I would go to prison for him. I mean, it would kind of depend on what he did, right? And if he was really guilty or not. And if he was guilty, was it really his fault?  Did he get a fair trial? I’d be visiting him in prison at least once a week, so I’d really be there all the time anyway, and then I realized: Of course I would.

The Refaeli clan presumably got preferential treatment because Bar is an international supermodel, but what if they offered this as a regular sentencing option in Israel? “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” went the theme song to the popular cop show Baretta in the 70s.

But maybe the Israeli version could become, “Don’t do the crime if your mom can’t do the time.” The prison population of middle-aged women would swell, while the percentage of young offenders behind bars would plummet. There would also be fewer prison breaks, because the moms who would have baked the files into cakes would already be in the clink.

As my son headed off to catch his bus, I called after him: “Don’t worry, sweetie, I will go to jail for you if you ever get arrested.” He had his earbuds in, though, so I don’t think he heard.



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