Forget They Were Murderous Bastards, They Were Good To Their Jewish Mothers
Jewish Magazine interviewed Robert Rockaway, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, about a book Robert wrote over 25 years called But He Was Good to His Mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters (1993).
Rockaway, who interviewed notorious gangsters in preparation for his book, details the lives of crime bosses such as Arnold Rothstein, Dutch Schultz, Bugsy Siegel, and Meyer Lansky to name a few. They were not all from the Detroit neighborhood, but they still had strong influence in the Jewish neighborhood in which Robert grew up.
The title for the book actually came from Robert’s mother when she learned that Robert was writing about “The Wise Guys” from the neighborhood, particularly Edward “Eddie” Fletcher (1898 – November 26, 1933), who was a notorious member of the Detroit Purple Gang.
Rockaway’s mother was automatically dismissive to any criticism he made about the “Tribesmen” aka Jewish gangsters. Fletcher may have been a thief, a murderer, rapist, child abuser and a drug dealer – “But he was good to his mother!”
It didn’t matter what they did in the outside world; it only mattered what they did and said in the Jewish world. That was the general attitude of Robert’s mother.
What was common among most Jewish gangsters was the fact that they had strong family ties, and were unwilling for any of their families to get mixed up in any of their heinous crimes. In some cases what they did was a mystery to their families. They were worried about “Shanda,” a Yiddish word meaning embarrassment.
Rockaway documents his fascination with the “Goodfellas” he saw as a Yeshiva child in his Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Detroit. He even had an unnamed godfather when chronicling his book. Robert did actually interview Meyer Lansky, though it was not a tell-all for the man who Robert calls the “Black Pope” of crime. Robert seems to insinuates to the reader that it’s a possibly Lansky, who died in 1983, was Robert’s “Godfather” at one time.
Robert was able to act as a go-between (in some cases a mediator) to the FBI while collecting their documents and interviewing members of the Kosher Mafia. Robert doesn’t pull any punches with the fact that the Jewish mob controls the pay-to-play system inside the United States. The crimes committed were all for the greater good to benefit the “Tribe” – they all had the “pintele yid” or the Jewish spark of life; in Judaism it’s the part of one’s Jewishness, which a Jew can’t escape. It’s an overemphasized concept.
Poor Jews of the 1920’s were just securing a throne for themselves, on piles of dead bodies. Robert believes the “Jewish Gangsters” worked for the “greater good” to get access into power in the American system, and there was no other way than to commit crimes, but now Jews have that sort of access and their mob-related crimes are relics of the past. Robert suggests Jewish gangsters have all but disappeared with the passage of time and no longer exist today.
Robert, when he was interviewing these elderly men, said he felt comfortable having a seat right next to them, as if he wasn’t in tune with reality of the real world actions of these men that destroyed the lives of other people. It sounds like he has some sort of religious bias and Robert is very tribal in nature.
There’s a certain context you have to use when judging these Jewish gangsters, according to Robert, because they did not exist in a vacuum, but whatever you, don’t be so nuanced with the NSDAP.
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