Once upon a time, back in the 20s and 30s, in Brooklyn, there lived a breed of men who exist now only in legend and in the memories of a few old men. Their names were Louis Lepke, Abe Reles, Bugsy Segel, Dutch Shultz, Meyer Lansky, and they were Jewish gangsters: Jews with Guns; tough, fearles Jews who roamed the streets in a time when a Jewish boy could fashion a future that was murderous and daring and wide open. Rich Cohen's father grew up in that world; his family owned the diner where the gangsters known as Murder Incorporated hung out. In TOUGH JEWS he tells their stories and brilliantly evokes their world - a world of street corners and bars and nightclubs; a world where murder was better than cowerdice; where killings were planned and executed with precision and finesse; a world of feuds, wars, schemes, where living into middle age was akind of victory; a world in which for a brief moment, Jews were among the most important criminals in America.
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When we think gangster, hood, or wiseguy, we often associate these characters with such names as Capone, Luciano, or even Corleone. However, when organized crime reared its ugly head in the late 1920s in Brooklyn, at the foundation were men like Meyer Lansky and Ben Siegel--both Jews. Rich Cohen's romantic account of Jewish gangsters, Tough Jews, brings to life the story of Jewish involvement in the world of organized crime.
Cohen persuasively achieves his objective by recounting the stories he heard from his father, who grew up with his friends (including broadcaster Larry King) at the end of the gangster era in Brooklyn, finding heroes in men like "Kid Twist" Reles and Bugsy Goldstein. The intriguing tales Cohen heard, although slightly embellished over time, offer a rare glimpse into a world that can barely be related to today's generation of Jews living in America. These Jews went to prison for committing violent felonies, not white-collar crimes, and got the chair for it. Inspired by their stories, Cohen went on to conduct extensive research through old journals, police records, and court reports to uncover the real stories behind the tales he heard as a boy.
Cohen warmly discusses his father's fascination with these powerful, charismatic figures, and openly envies his experiences at a time before Jewish people lived under the debilitating shadow of the Holocaust. In addition, Cohen shows compassion for the need of his father's generation to look up to "someone who gives them the illusion of strength." --Jeremy StoreyFrom the Inside Flap:
In an L.A. delicatessen, a group of Brooklyn natives gets together to discuss basketball, boxing, the weather back east, and the Jewish gangsters of yesteryear. Meyer Lansky. Bugsy Siegel. Louis Lepke, the self-effacing mastermind of Murder, Inc. Red Levine, the Orthodox hit man who refused to kill on the Sabbath. Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, who looked like a mama's boy but once buried a rival alive. These are just some of the vibrant, vicious characters Rich Cohen's father reminisced about and the author evokes so pungently in Tough Jews.
Tracing a generation of Jewish gangsters from the candy stores of Brownsville to the clubhouses of the Lower East Side--and, occasionally, to suites at the Waldorf--Cohen creates a densely anecdotal and gruesomely funny history of muscle, moxie, and money. Filled with fixers and schlammers, the squeal of tires and the rattle of gunfire, his book shatters stereotypes as deftly as its subjects once shattered kneecaps.
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Book Description Vintage/Ebury (a Division of Random, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0099757915