- 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, 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
- Fourth, sad to say they were the first drug dealers in
- 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.
- 'Tough Jews, Fathers, Sons and Gangsters' By Rich Cohen
Simon and Schuster, 1998, New York