Ex-Mobster Thrills Chabad With Storied Past

Ex-Mobster Thrills Chabad With Storied Past

Chabad Intown blew off the doors on Jan. 15 with an atypical historian, storyteller and ex-mobster, Myron Sugerman.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Guest speaker Myron Sugerman enthralled a packed Intown Chabad audience, seen here with Rabbi Ari Sollish, signing his book.
Guest speaker Myron Sugerman enthralled a packed Intown Chabad audience, seen here with Rabbi Ari Sollish, signing his book.

Chabad Intown blew off the doors on Jan. 15 with an atypical historian, storyteller and ex-mobster Myron Sugerman. He also spoke at two other Atlanta Chabads on subsequent nights.

Sugerman, who was promoting his book “The Chronicles of The Last Jewish Gangster: From Meyer to Myron,” charmed and demystified a standing-room-only audience in the sanctuary of the new Atlanta BeltLine facility. There he stood under the eternal light speaking of prison life, suitcases of cash from Meyer Lanksy’s Las Vegas casinos to Israel in the 1940s, helping nail the reviled Nazi torturer Dr. Josef Menegele — all though the “underworld.”

Sugerman ended his talk on the high note of how he values faith. Now in his early 80s, he is “spilling the beans” and “dishing the dish,” and the audience didn’t want to let him leave the podium.

When I spoke to him privately beforehand, his demeanor and language were what one would expect in a John Gotti movie role. But when he took the stage for 90 minutes without a single note, the audience wanted it to be more like a mini-series than a single episode, as so much meaningful history was elucidated.

Throughout his talk, his language became more elegiac and it was hard to distinguish which was the real Sugerman. He called every woman “Sweetheart” and brushed off what he deemed as non-intellectual questions. His humor was like a mélange of Alan King, Jackie Mason and Don Rickles evolved into a university professor. The couple behind me (including a local cantor) shrieked with tears of laughter.

Sugerman’s book, “The Chronicles of The Last Jewish Gangster: From Meyer to Myron”

“The Jews and the Italians were like Jacob and Esau in the Bible,” Sugerman said. “The Italians were very xenophobic and only wanted to do business with Sicilians and Napolese. Lucky Luciano saw the future and wanted to include Jews and recognized that together we could make money.”

A sample of unique Jewish “situations” from Sugerman:

Bugsy Siegel worked well with the Italians and brought in more Jews such as Louis Rush and Sam “Red” Levine, who kept kosher and wore a kippah. Levine’s orders were, “Never kill anyone on Shabbos unless it is absolutely necessary!”

A bookmaker’s Yizkor was held at a “pizza joint.” If the World Series fell on Yom Kippur, a parade of vans pulled up at halftime to make a shul for Kaddish in the basement.

Sugerman explained that when Jews immigrated to New York, it was Darwinian “dog eat dog” toughness. They took fake names (to hide their activities from their parents) while they snuck out at night to be prizes fighters. Hymie Kugel was a Jewish referee and very protective in seeing that Jewish boys had the advantage, ..a very slow count: 1, 1 and a quarter, 1 and a half …”

Rabbi Ai Sollish urged Sugerman to explain his relationship with Simon Wiesenthal. Using his language skills and mob connections, Sugerman overheard a Spanish conversation on a plane that led to the location of the reviled Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Myron – who has a Bachelor of Science degree from Bucknell University in language arts and political science — speaks Portuguese, German, Yiddish, Ladino, French and Hebrew, in addition to Spanish.

His book is a must read to get Sugerman’s front row seat and historical perspective on scenarios about which we have long heard: Whether Jack Ruby was “a Jewish patriot;” fighting the American Nazi Party; Arnie Rothstein’s fix of the World Series; Truman defying his own Cabinet; bootlegging; Siegel; Lansky; the Stern Gang; guns and Swiss bank accounts helping form the State of Israel; the Mossad; David Ben-Gurion; and much, more intrigue — all with Jewish connections.

Sugerman concluded by sharing his faith connection. “You can’t be a Jew without Judaism. We’ve been given this perfect diamond passed on over 3,000 years. We have survived the ashes of the Shoah to this place of pride and honor. I made an intellectual decision to evaluate myself and actions like sending my son to yeshiva. He is now an Orthodox rabbi in Boca with eight children.” How’s that for passing it on?

And recent news flash: Hollywood called! Daniel Finkelman, the producer of the film “Menashe,” has contracted with Sugerman to make his life story into a movie.

In my one-on-one with Sugerman, we discussed his jail time and personal life.

Jaffe: Why exactly did you go to prison?

Sugerman: I was in Ellenwood for 19 months in 1995 (at age 57) for organized crime/illegal slot machines.

Jaffe: What was life like in “the slammer?”

Sugerman: Not as bad as you think. I was physically and mentally active and did a lot of learning. Rabbis visited. We had services. If we didn’t have 10 men for a minyan we plugged in [a Latin- or African-American.] My job was keeping one window clean; then I got transferred to the laundry. I paid someone to make my window the cleanest one and do the laundry.

Jaffe: Jews like good food. What did you eat?

Sugerman: A lot of peanut butter and jelly. For dinners, I pooled with the Italians and we had our own cook making pasta.

Jaffe: Did your wife stick with you?

Sugerman: I’ve been married over 50 years. I met my wife, who is a Jewish Argentinian, in South America while I was doing business there. We have three adult sons.

Jaffe: Can I have a role in the movie, … like a prison guard or a mole?

Sugerman: Sure, Sweetheart. You can be the godmother in the kitchen cooking kugel.

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