2018-01-03 / Voice at the Shore

Sugarman, “The Last Jewish Gangster,” speaks to full crowd at Chai Center

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor


Chabad’s Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport with speaker Myron Sugarman. Myron Sugarman, author of “The Chronicles of the Last Jewish Gangster,” spoke at a Chai Center event on the second night of Chanukah. Chabad’s Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport with speaker Myron Sugarman. Myron Sugarman, author of “The Chronicles of the Last Jewish Gangster,” spoke at a Chai Center event on the second night of Chanukah. Myron Sugarman, author of “The Chronicles of the Last Jewish Gangster: From Meyer to Myron,” spoke at Chabad’s Chai Center in Ventnor during a celebration of the second night of Chanukah. The event, which also featured a Chanukah dinner and candle lighting, drew a large crowd that packed the Chai center’s sanctuary for Sugarman’s talk.

Sugarman talked about the history of the Jewish mob in New York and the U.S., recalling how it began with poor immigrant teens growing up in tough ghetto neighborhoods, where they became physically tough and banded together for their own protection.

The Jewish gangs would also protect their neighborhoods, said Sugarman, striking back at “anti-Semites coming into Jewish neighborhoods and beating up old Jews” and causing other trouble.

Eventually, Jewish and other gangs were employed by bootleggers during prohibition to protect their alcohol. Seeing the opportunity, gang members became active partners in the illegal alcohol business and the Jewish mob was born.

“Anyone and everyone got into it because it was so profitable,” Sugarman explained.

Over time, major figures in the Italian Mafia—namely Lucky Luciano—began doing business with the Jewish mob leaders, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. “Lucky Luciano saw that the Jews were smart,” noted Sugarman.

Yet the Jewish mob operated much differently than the Mafia, he added. While the Mafia called itself “family” and demanded its members show greater loyalty to their “crime family” than even to their own families, “Jews didn’t have the same kind of hierarchy,” he said.

Another important distinction with the Jewish mob was its role in fighting anti-Semitism, he added. In Newark, for instance, where German gangs frequently caused trouble for the Jewish population, Jewish gangsters served as protectors.

“The Jewish mobster did not fight the anti-Semites for money, they did it for Jewish pride,” said Sugarman.

“I know so many gangsters!” he concluded. Many were brilliant and fascinating, others “were useless,” he said. “I knew all these people. I grew up with everyone.”

In questions following the talk, Sugarman was asked: Is there an active Jewish mob in the U.S. today? His answer: “You’re looking at him.”

Sugarman’s talk at the Chai Center was arranged by the group of men who take part in “Whiskey, Wings, and Wisdom,” Chabad’s weekly men’s study group, said Chabad at the Shore’s Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport. The group meets at the Chai Center on Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m. All men are welcome to participate. For more information, contact Chabad at (609) 822-8500. s

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