The notorious Bugsy Siegel is returning to the screen in the upcoming season of Boardwalk Empire, the latest in a long line of characters who defy Jewish stereotypes
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I once heard a story about my great-grandfather, Sam Elias, a former boxer from Salonika who came to New York in the early 1900s. He was taking my grandfather and family to a baseball game between "The Boys of New Lots" and "The Boys of Bensonhurst." On their way in, Sam's brother-in-law, Dave, ran up and stopped them. He had just lost money to a group of gamblers across the street and suspected they were using loaded dice. Sam told his wife to take the kids down the street. As my grandfather was led away by his mother, he turned around to see his father beating the crooked gamblers in the face with a baseball bat. I love that story.
There's a theme that runs through every generation of American Jewish youths. We're captivated by members of the tribe who, through their work, profession, or general behavior, transcend the stereotypes we associate with Jewry: the Shtetl Jew, the bread lines in the ghetto, the arrival trains in Auschwitz. It's that feeling you get when you pass Koufax's plaque at Cooperstown, when you first read Exodus, or when your carpenter mentions his son's bar mitzvah. For me, it was most apparent when I learned about the Jewish gangster. They were a breed of thugs born out of the tough immigrant streets of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn in the late 1800s. They made a name for themselves during Prohibition, created notorious clans like Murder Inc, and ultimately fell into obscurity with upward mobility.