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June 29, 1990 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-06-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

CLOSE-UP

Some of the
biggest
gangsters, from
Bugsy Siegel
to Meyer
Lansky,
were
strong
supporters
of the new
State of
Israel.

ROBERT ROCKAWAY

Special to The Jewish News

I

n the summer of
1946 "Ruben," a Ha-
ganah representative
in Los Angeles to
raise money for arms,
received a curious phone
call. The caller identified
himself as "Solly." He
wanted a meeting.
When they got together,
Solly asked Ruben, "Tell me
what you're doing. The boss
is interested." The boss
turned out to be Benjamin
"Bugsy" Siegel, one of
gangland's more infamous
figures.
Solly arranged a meeting
between Siegel and Ruben
at a well-known restaurant.
At the appointed time, Sol-
ly and Ruben went into an
empty room at the rear of
the restaurant. Then Solly
left.
Soon, two tough-looking
goons entered and searched
the room. When satisfied it
was safe, they left. Shortly
thereafter, Siegel came in.

22

FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 1990

"Bugsy" Siegel

Ruben told him his story,
how the Haganah needed
money and weapons with
which to fight. When he
finished, Siegel asked: "You
mean to tell me Jews are
fighting?"
Ruben said, "Yes."
Siegel, sitting across the
table, leaned forward until
the two men were eyeball to
eyeball. "You mean fighting,
as in killing?"
"Yes," said Ruben.
Siegel looked at him for a
moment then said, "I'm
with you."
From then on, Ruben
recalls, "every week I got a
phone call to go to the
restaurant. And every week
I received a suitcase filled
with $5 and $10 bills." The
payments continued until
Ruben left Los Angeles. He
estimates that Siegel gave
him a total of $50,000.
This story illustrates how
Jewish gangsters, quietly
and without fanfare,
assisted in the struggle to
create the State of Israel.
These activities were part of

a tradition of American
Jewish underworld figures
defending their people in
times of trouble.
The role of Jewish
criminals, like Siegel, in the
establishment and exten-
sion of organized crime in
the United States is well-
documented. Although
Jewish criminality existed
in 19th and early 20th Cen-
tury America, it was only
after World War I that a
significant number of Jews
elected to work in illegal
enterprises. This resulted
from Prohibition and
anti-Semitism.

In 1919, the U.S. govern-
ment attempted to regulate
morality by outlawing the
manufacture and sale of
alcoholic beverages. As soon
as the law passed, it seem-
ed everyone had to have a
drink. Prohibition provided
tough, ruthless, criminal
sons of Irish, Italian and
Jewish immigrants with the
golden opportunity to slake
America's thirst and become

enormously wealthy while
doing so.
The decade of the 1920s
also witnessed a precipitous
rise in anti-Semitism. From
1920 to 1927, Henry Ford
vilified Jews in the pages of
his Dearborn Independent
newspaper and in pam-
phlets titled The Interna-
tional Jew. The Ku Klux
Klan instigated boycotts of
Jewish merchants, vandaliz-
ed Jewish-owned stores,
burned crosses outside
synagogues and terrorized
prominent Jews in Southern
communities. Colleges and
professional schools, in-
cluding Harvard, Dart-
mouth, Columbia, New York
University and Rutgers, in-
stituted quotas on Jewish
enrollment.
encountered
Jews
economic discrimination in
commercial banks, in-
dustrial corporations, in-
surance companies and
public utilities, as well as
widespread social
discrimination. All this
made it increasingly dif-
ficult for Jews to enter
respectable avenues to suc-
cess and status. Conse-
quently, many followed
alternative paths to fame
and fortune; sports
(especially boxing), the
entertainment industry and
crime.
Just as they succeeded in
other areas of endeavor, so,
too, did Jews achieve pro-
minence in crime. During
Prohibition, 50 percent of
the leading bootleggers
were Jews, and Jewish
criminals bossed the rackets
in a number of America's
largest cities.
Charlie "King" Solomon
ran Boston's underworld
and New England's nar-
cotics traffic. Moe Dalitz,
Sam Tucker, Morris Klein-
man and Louis Rothkopf
controlled bootlegging in
Cleveland. They moved so
much liquor across Lake
Erie that it was dubbed the
"Jewish Lake." Harry and
Yiddy Bloom and Isidore
Blumenfeld managed illicit
businesses in Minneapolis.
Chicago-based Moses "Moe"
Annenberg perfected the
wire system of off-track bet-
ting in America. During the
Depression he netted $6
million a year, the largest
individual income of any
American. Jake "Greasy
Thumb" Guzik was
treasurer and bookkeeper of

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