I used to tell Lansky that he may’ve had a Jewish mother, but someplace he must’ve been wet-nursed by a Sicilian.
—Charles "Lucky" Luciano on Meyer Lansky
Organized crime needs some kind of criminal underclass in order to exist. Criminal underclasses need some kind of social underclass in order to exist. And what group, historically, has generally been a social underclass? Take a guess.
Jewish mobsters are every bit as nasty as the other kinds, with the addition that they might have Yiddish as a first language.
In fiction, the Kosher Nostra are rare, probably because Jewish organized crime tends to be rolled into other, larger organized criminal groups. In truth, the Jewish community was often too small to be the single dominant organized mob, and Jewish mobsters often made strategic alliances with a larger group, often ending up serving as advisors and technicians. From about Prohibition
to some time in the 1960s or 1970s, the main allies were the Italians
. Nowadays, the Jewish mob is mostly focused in Israeli or Russian mobs
(and as such, are more likely to qualify as Ruthless Foreign Gangsters
). Still, they tend to pop up often enough in early-mid 20th century period pieces, particularly in Los Angeles
and pre-Castro Cuba
The Jewish mobster in fiction is often characterized as a Motor Mouth
, with a tendency to act polite and friendly
until they get suddenly
violent. Comedic tropes applied to Jews usually are not applied to Kosher Nostra types - in other words, Jewish gangsters who argue
a lot (probably written by someone Jewish
) are rare.
Transparent No Celebrities Were Harmed
versions of the most famous Real Life
examples, Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, are particularly common (It was joked by Lansky's friends that he behaved more "Italian" than most Italians). Historically, the Jewish Mob was a dominant force in the brief period between when White America started seeing Irishmen as "white" and the rise of the more numerous Italian Mob. During that period, they were involved in the regularization and "professionalization" of organized crime in the US, with the establishment of The Commission
(the Italian-American Mafia's coordination/dispute-resolution body) and Murder, Inc.
(organized, professional hitmen) being the brainchildren of Jewish mobsters (the Commission and Murder, Inc.'s parent organization, the National Crime Syndicate, were specifically Lansky's ideas).
Compare The Mafia
, The Mafiya
, The Cartel
, The Triads and the Tongs
and The Irish Mob
- The character of Moe Greene in The Godfather is based on Bugsy Siegel.
- The character of Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II was based on Meyer Lansky. Lansky (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a bit player in Andy Garcia's film The Lost City, as well.
- Bugsy about... well, Bugsy Siegel. Lansky is in this one too; understandable, given they were lifelong friends. Until Lansky ordered a hit on him.
- Bugsy and Lansky also appear in Mobsters, with Lansky shown as Lucky Luciano's number two, and the brains of the team.
- Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) is one of these in The Long Goodbye.
- In Snatch, the characters make several references to the involvement of Jews in the diamond trade. There are several crooked Jewish gangsters mixed up in it.
- ´Once Upon a Time in America: Noodles is a Jewish-American gangster. Plus, the character of Maximilian "Max" Bercovicz was inspired by Lansky.
- Dutch Schultz in Hoodlum.
- Bernie Bernbaum in Millers Crossing is a Jewish-American gangster who gets into some heat with the local Italian gang.
- Lucky Number Slevin features a boss named The Rabbi. Because he's a Rabbi. Several of his enforcers are ex-Mossad. On first meeting the Rabbi, Slevin asks how he reconciles being a rabbi with the shotgun he's holding. The Rabbi answers that killing Slevin in "self-defense" would be acceptable, as far as the religious texts are concerned.
- Le Grand Pardon is basically a French and Jewish Pied-Noir version of The Godfather.
- Sam "Ace" Rothstein in Casino, a crooked Jewish casino mogul with ties to the mob. He's based on Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.
- Nino and Bernie in Drive are Jewish gangsters. Nino sets the events of the film in motion with his plan to rip off the Italian Mafia.
- Eight Men Out is about the 1919 White Sox scandal. It features Arnold Rothstein and a few minor gangsters under his employ.
- Little Odessa is about Jewish Russian mobsters in Brighton Beach.
- In L.A. Confidential, Mickey Cohen's arrest and fall from power in the opening serves as the instigator of the plot as the criminals of the city try to fill the Evil Power Vacuum.
- Cohen is also the main antagonist in Gangster Squad.
- Robert De Niro's character in American Hustle is Italian, but he's said to be the right-hand man of a never-seen Meyer Lansky.
- Interestingly, the Purple Gang, one of the few predominately-Jewish gangs of America, known for their violence and stranglehold over much of Detroit, had a film made about them that was an aversion. Due to racial attitudes at the time and the Hays Code, the film, "The Purple Gang" whitewashed all the main characters despite them being well-known to be Jews. The film was a financial failure.
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- The Yiddish Policemens Union takes place in an alternate history where Jews settled in an Alaskan city after Israel lost in the Independence War. There's plenty of crime and intrigue in the almost exclusively Jewish metropolis. The most notable criminal organization is an ultra-Orthodox religious sect called the Verboven. The sect's head rabbi is The Don.
- In A Conspiracy of Paper, one of the characters is Abraham Mendes, a historical figure, who in reality, as in the novels, is the chief lieutenant of the gangster Jonathan Wild. The novels have a definite hardboiled detective feel (despite the 18th century setting), and likewise, Mendes fits a lot of the 20th century (Jewish) gangster stereotypes. He's a violent thug in professional life, but when not engaged in crime, is a pleasant man who goes to synagogue regularly. He also fits the erratic temper part. The second novel shows him to be an animal lover, and he brutally attacks someone who had harmed a dog.
- The gangsters in Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy are used to confound the expectation that all American gangsters are or were Italian-American. "Dutch Schultz" and Weissmann are clearly Jewish.
- The Great Gatsby has Gatsby's shady business partner Meyer Wolfsheim, who is a pretty obvious No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Arnold Rothstein, right down to "rumored to have fixed the 1919 World Series".
- EL Doctorow's Billy Bathgate is about Dutch Schultz, real life Jewish mobster. (Played by Dustin Hoffman in The Film of the Book).
- Fictional Ur Example: Fagin in Oliver Twist. Believed to have been inspired by real Jewish London Gangster Isaac "Ikey" Solomon.
- The Godfather: In the original novel, Don Vincent Forlenza, Don of the Cleveland family, earned his organization the nickname of "the Jewish mob" by surrounding himself with Jewish associates.
- The kingpin of 50's Los Angeles, Mickey Cohen, plays a prominent role in L.A. Confidential.
- In the Andrew Vachss Burke book Mask Market what initially seem to be The Mafiya turn out to be these.
- Jewish gangsters feature prominently in Boardwalk Empire. Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Seigel and Waxy Gordon are all characters of varying importance. Manny Horvitz is a (fictional) kosher butcher who is vying with Gordon over control of Philadelphia. One of few works of fiction to address Rothstein's poker habit, which eventually put him in debt to a better gambler, who had him murdered in 1928.
- The Life and Adventures of Mishka Yaponchik was a Russian TV Series about one prominent Russian-Jewish gangster from Odessa. The later-famous Red commander Kotovsky was also a gang member and there was a TV series produced about him.
- The West Wing: Toby's father, Julie, was a hitman for Murder, Inc.. He justifies his past work as both providing for his family and only affecting fellow criminals. Though Julie served time for his crimes and later had a normal career making ladies' raincoats, Toby has long resented him, both for his criminal acts and the emotional distance the family suffered by his job and time in prison.
- The Sopranos had Hesh Rabkin, Jewish music producer who did business with the show's Italian mafia. He may have been based on music mogul Morris "Mo" Levy, a real-life Jewish producer with mafia ties.
- Oz features Nikolai Stanislofsky, a Russian Jewish gangster.
- Also from HBO, Rome has Timon/Tevye, a bodyguard working for gentile Romans in an Older Than Feudalism example.
- In Sons of Anarchy, Bobby Elvis is a Jewish member of the gun-running Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club. He moonlights as an Elvis impersonator for bar mitzvahs and such. His father was a bookie for the mob.
- Michael Weston has run into the modern version of these guys once or twice on Burn Notice, the most notable case being the Zamar family from season 1. The Zamar patriarch is an ex-Mossad officer who has turned Arms Dealer and is teaching the trade to his sons as well.
- Peaky Blinders has Alfie Solomons and his gang.
- L.A. Noire has a couple of these, as you might guess from the page quote. The first is Mickey Cohen, based on the real-life gangster who was something of celebrity in L.A. during the 40's and 50's. The second is Lenny Finklestein, a drug-dealer who you wind up killing while investigating morphine-trafficking.
- The 3rd Street Saints in Saints Row might be channeling the Purple Gang, a prohibition-era crew of alcohol runners. Like the old Gang, The Saints all wear purple, the default car is "The Bootlegger," and they're known for openly violent crimes and intra-gang violence.
- Grand Theft Auto IV has the Jewish Mob responsible for the diamond deal that serves as the focus of a major subplot. The boss and his right hand man (Isaac Roth and Mori Green respectively) are Shout Outs to the famous Godfather characters.
- The Big Bad of The Shivah is one of these.
- Lackadaisy: Mordecai Heller, who looks more like an accountant than the most cold-blooded hitman in St. Louis.