Brooklyn, much like the rest of NYC, just before the start of the twentieth century until around World War II, was a nexus of throwaway violence and petty crime. ‘Wiseguys’ ruled the corner much like young thugs rule today’s corners in certain neighborhoods of Chicago, Boston, and East New York. Though the names and faces have changed, the basic primal aphorisms have largely remained: loyalty above all else. Though seemingly unheard of for today’s generations the phrase ‘Jewish Gangster’ seems hyperbolic, yet many turn-of-the-century criminals fell under that banner. Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter, Arnold Rothstein, Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles…these were the characters that saw fit to take matters in their own hands, shaping a violent destiny from which only two outcomes were seen: untimely death or jail. Tough Jews follows the escapades of such characters, describing the rise and fall of such likeminded people whose only preoccupation, it seems, was to make money and bust heads.
Though the narrative is disjointed, skipping back and forth through a litany of prime-time gangsters, some receiving their deathly comeuppance early on only to reappear through another’s back story, the main players begin to emerge over its 270 pages. The story begins at Nate & Al’s, a west coast diner where second generation Jews like Larry King (the Larry King) cavort with old friends from the Bensonhurst area where they sit and reminisce about the past, before jumping into the lives of fifteen year olds Abe Reles and Buggsy Goldstein. These two would eventually link up to the crime syndicate Murder Inc (none of that Ja Rule bullshit) under Bugsy Siegel and Lansky, an organization that perfected contract killing.
An enlightening read for anyone that’s ever wondered what Brooklyn and Manhattan was like in the 20’s and 30’s, at a time when immigrants came rushing from the boat into the melting pot of NYC into the domain of what has now become known as the Jewish Mafia.