For many decades, there was a very strong and significant presence of Jewish gangsters who worked hand in hand with the Italian-American mafia, not only in New York City but throughout the nation as well.
Most everyone is familiar with the names of Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Dutch Schultz, but there were many, many, more lesser-known but very powerful Jewish mobsters active from at least the early 1900s through the 1980s.
Today, there is a little-known Jewish contingent of mob figures active. But in previous decades, these Jewish mobsters ran into the thousands. The Italians and Jews always got along very well and despite the stereotype of Jews as the “brains” and the Italians as the “brawn,” both were equally smart and deadly as required. Here we’ll explore this little-known segment of the underworld and the vast rackets and territory they controlled.
The stories on these pages will generally examine both the better-known, as well as the many little-known, Jewish racketeers who operated over the years in the Greater New York City metropolitan area and down in South Florida. But from time to time Button Guys will also focus on and highlight top Jewish hoodlums from all across the country in the cities where they lived and operated such as Baltimore, Maryland; Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; and the west coast like Los Angeles, California, etc.
Florida is included because of the near-constant connection to NYC activity. Labor rackets of all stripes (garment district, airport freight, trucking, and many varied industries in NYC), casino gambling in Las Vegas and the Islands, and business infiltration, in addition to almost all varieties of street rackets: gambling, shylocking, narcotics, extortion, etc. “The Jewish Mob” lacked a formal structure like the “Roman legion” type design of the Italians but did have an informal leadership of sorts, ranking certain Jews such as Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Lepke Buchalter as “bosses” per se.
The following stories, although extensive, are just a scratching of the surface of the literally thousands of Jewish mobsters active during those eras. Keep in mind that Jewish hoods, in cooperation with the Italians, were dominant powers in the gambling rackets (bookmaking, policy, dice,) loansharking on a fantastic scale, and narcotics smuggling and distribution – hence the term “schmeck” which is a derivation of a Yiddish word for “smell.”
Heavily concentrated rackets were on the Lower East Side where there was a heavy Jewish population, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Miami, Florida, among many other strongholds. Suffice it to say, that for upwards of 80 years, “Tough Jews” – racketeers of every size and shape – heavily influenced the American underworld!