12/19/08

Slate: Madoff Elected to the Jewish Gangsters Hall of Fame


It's amazing to me how the Internet has accelerated the news and analysis cycle of our society.

Ron Rosenbaum writes in Slate today, "Where Are the Jewish Gangsters of Yesteryear? Or, what we can learn about "respectability" from Bernie Madoff and Meyer Lansky." It's one short week since the story came out and he's already put Madoff into a keen cultural and historical perspective!

Rosenbaum concludes with some comparison of the sad bad Madoff saga to a famous Jew-on-Jew scam story of the past:
...the controversy among the Jewish gangster alte kockers (old guys) about Mickey Cohen and the Irgun ship.

It seems Mickey Cohen (you know, the L.A. crime boss from the '40s and '50s; he appears in some James Ellroy novels) went around leaning on a lot of respectable and nonrespectable types for money for the Irgun, the Jewish-gangster-favored faction of Zionists in the perilous period of the founding of the state of Israel. It seems Mickey Cohen claimed he'd used the money to buy a ship and fill it full of guns and ammo for the Irgun to fight for survival of the embattled state, but alas—Mickey said—the ship had sunk on its way to Haifa or something.

There were always rumors, according to Lucky, that there never was a ship, that Mickey Cohen kept the money for himself—pulled a Bernie. Lucky didn't believe it. Honor among thieves. There was a ship. He was sure.

I hope it's true. I really think there is a difference between the disreputable but colorful and—in their own way—honorable Jewish gangsters and someone like Bernie. As that Jewish folksinger Zimmerman wrote, "When you live outside the law you must be honest." A lesson about true respectability that Bernie seems never to have learned. A lesson the old time Jewish gangsters could teach us.

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