Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

The Jewish Gangsters in America

By: Gad Nahshon

Arnold Rothstein was the founding father of American organized crime. He was murdered in 1928. He left a legend and a myth and also a tribe of notorious "boys": Louis Lepke Buchalter, the first builder of an empire of crimes which produced in 1940 around $2 million a year, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegal, Dutch Schultz, Abraham Twist Kid Reles, Pep Strauss, Mendy Weiss, Gurrah Shapiro, Red Levine and many others.

They were Jews, criminals and murderers. They also did not hesitate to murder other Jews who dared to challenge them in the underworld. They left a "legacy" to be followed by the Italian "disciples" of Rothstein: Lucky Luciano, Joe Adonis, Louis Capone, Albert Anastasia and many others.

A young writer, Rich Cohen (see photo), decided to expose the role of these Jews in the history of organized crime in America. But he also illuminated these Jews in a sort of romantic-nostalgic light.

Cohen is an excellent writer and a superb story teller. He conducted research of his own and produced a fascinating account of the life of these criminal Jews. His book: "Tough Jews, Fathers, Sons and Gangsters" (Simon and Schuster, 1998, New York) will stir debate about the "contribution" of Jews to America.

First: Jews do not tend to be only white collar kind of criminals. They can be cruel murderers.

Second, Jews invented organized crime.

Third, Jews were the first ones to describe themselves as businessmen. They turned the crime into business and they built a network of crimes: gambling, prostitution, smuggling, extortion and protection money.

Fourth, sad to say they were the first drug dealers in America!! Fifth, they were often "good Jews". They went to synagogue and they defended Jews against American Nazis and anti-Semites.

These are the conclusions from Rich Cohen's exciting to read book: "Tough Jews is a fascinating read back into the history of organized crime," wrote Martin Scorcese. And Mario Cuomo defined this book as "unusually entertaining". Larry King, a friend of the family, said, "WOW. What a book... You do not have to be Jewish to love Tough Jews."

He is right. The book is rich with engrossing, vivid, violent anecdotes. Cohen covered the era from 1918 to 1950.

These Jews grew up in the Jewish ghettos of America and especially in Brooklyn or Brownsville. As a special tribe, Cohen illuminated, they disappear. Why? Because they sent their children to the colleges, rather than to the streets. The Italians were the ones to develop families or dynasties of organized crime.

But it looks as if the Jews taught them the secret art of organized crime. Cohen does not have a background in criminal justice and he ignored the famous book by Jenna Weismann Joselit: "Our Gang" (1900-1940). So we need more material to understand the unique characteristics of "Jewish crime". Also, he did not mention the film "Lepke" (Buchalter) with Tony Curtis in the major role.

Cohen also compared the "toughness" of the Jewish gangsters with the art of the Israeli commando in Entebbe (give me a break).

Cohen tried to revise our attitude to these Jews. Well they were criminals, period. Many Jews today are sensitive to these kind of stories about crimes. Well we should be more mature. We are not always perfect or a "Light to the Nations". But we should not give medals to Jews such as Abe Reles, for example.

Cohen also tried to present these Jews as an example of "Pride Jews" but the criminals did not go to fight against Hitler in World War II.

Rich Cohen grew up in Glencoe, Illinois. He attended Tulane University in New Orleans and spent his junior year at Oxford University in England. His first job after college was with The New Yorker where he wrote a number of stories, mostly humorous pieces, that ran in "Notes and Comment" and "Talk of the Town." After two years at The New Yorker he became a staff writer at The New York Observer, writing "mostly funny stories about mostly serious people." Less than a year later, he was offered a contract by Rolling Stone magazine where he's now a contributing editor.

At Rolling Stone, he has written stories on the Rolling Stones, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Clancy, Pat Buchanan, and Howard Stern, among other notable subjects. He continues to write articles and humor pieces for The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York magazine, Spy, and Details. He lives in New York City.


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