By ALAN SMASON
To hear Myron Sugerman tell it, the Jews were a tough bunch who made their bones in their own mob just the same as the Italians and the Irish before them. With an almost romantic nostalgia, Sugerman regaled the crowd at Congregation Beth Israel with his own take on the Jewish involvement in famous crime syndicates on Thurs., March 16.
Sugerman should know. He was a connected mob guy, who was primarily involved in the illegal slot machine business. He described how his father knew mob figures like Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Sugerman followed in his father’s footsteps and eventually spent seven years behind federal bars on one major prosecution. But he either pleaded out to lesser crimes or skated on other charges, largely spending most of his life as a free man.
Sugerman’s talk was full of witty asides. He declined a “formal introduction” because, as he explained, “I had too many of those in front of the federal prosecutors.”
Sugerman has a book of his memoirs about to be released in two months. Titled “From Meyer to Myron,” it details the Jewish mob and the part he played in it.
Sugerman revealed that, like him, many of the Jewish mobsters were very patriotic and proud supporters of the State of Israel. He said part of the attachment to other Jews came from their roles in the protection racket. But, it also stemmed from a pride in their Jewish heritage and when the Jewish State was formed, many of the supplies of weapons and cash came from the Jewish mob, he said.
Besides Meyer Lansky, Sugerman mentioned other highly visible Jews who held sway in Jewish and Italian crime syndicates like Dutch Schultz (Arthur Fleggenheimer), Louis Lepke Buchalter of Murder, Inc., Arnold Rothstein, Abner Longese Loman and Mickey Cohen. Many of these gangsters were tough, he said, but when it came to Israel, they had a soft heart.
“Had the Jewish patriot that was born in Palestine or born in Europe and fought in the war of independence , if he, in turn, would have been born in the United States, he probably would have been a gangster,” Sugerman postulated. “And by the same token, a Jewish gangster that was born here, had he been born in Palestine or Europe and struggled during the war of independence, he probably would have ended up a Jewish patriot.”
Sugerman noted that Jews were especially noted as prizefighters, according to his reckoning some 26,000 Jews. “We dominated one-third of the championship prizefighters in the world because we produced tough kids, tough Jews coming out of the ghettos,” he noted. “And you had kids who formed their own gangs.”
While Sugerman had the benefit of his father’s work as a gangster to make connections to higher ups as a young man, he was for the most part, a low level mobster. His insight into the workings of the mob was quite keen.
Sugerman related it was Charles “Lucky” Luciano who convinced the Italian members of the Black Hand to work with the Jews. According to Sugerman, Luciano was reputed to have acknowledged that the Jews knew how to make money.
Luciano worked closely with Lansky and Siegel to enrich the coffers of the mob, despite the fact that none of them left behind what might be regarded as huge estates.