Arts & Culture

Tough Guys Dance At Bar Mitzvahs

The tribe lost some of its street cred this week, as pioneering sports handicapper and mobbed-out casino manager Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal died Monday of a heart attack at his home in Miami Beach. Rosenthal’s life and career were the basis … Read More

By / October 16, 2008

The tribe lost some of its street cred this week, as pioneering sports handicapper and mobbed-out casino manager Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal died Monday of a heart attack at his home in Miami Beach. Rosenthal’s life and career were the basis of the character Sam "Ace" Rothstein portrayed by Robert DeNiro in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film, Casino. Referred to by Casino screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi as "one of the originals," Rosenthal was actually a late addition to a long line of Jewish badasses, dating back to Hannukah hero Judah Maccabee, who counted the armies of Seleucia, Syria and Rome as his sparring partners during the second century B.C. Rothstein served the various criminal enterprises who controlled Vegas in the 70′s and 80′s, mostly through his business savvy, but also through the lead-pipe cruelty of his connected cohorts.

The most recognizable Jewish figures of organized crime, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, almost single-handedly built Vegas from the ground up and transformed an arid dessert into the Mecca of Vice that Rosenthal would control decades later.

Born to Ukranian and Russian immigrants, respectively, Siegel and Lansky were involved in the formation and development in the notorious American crime body, The Commission, as well as it’s assassination branch, Murder, Inc., which was responsible for hundreds of mafia-related killings. The characters Hyman Roth and Moe Green from The Godfather films were based on Lansky and Siegel, whose real lives were well chronicled in Rich Cohen’s 1999 book, Tough Jews.

On the other side of the law, depending on one’s perspective, are the Mossad agents who carried out Operation Wrath of God following the 1972 Munich Massacre, in which 11 Israeli Olympians were taken hostage and murdered by the Palestinian terrorist organization, Black September. The subject of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film, Munich, Operation Wrath of God was commissioned by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and led to the assassinations of dozens of suspected Palestinian terrorists. In a similar vein of cultural self-defense, Ze’ev Jabotinsky could be considered the Jewish Malcom X, using his experience in the British military to train Jews in weaponry and fighting skills. 

Jews have also shown a fondness for brutal violence in the name of organized sport over the past century, with champion boxers including Benny Leonard, Barney Ross and Maxie Rosenbloom representing Jews. More recently, Rory Singer has made a name for himself on the Ultimate Fighting circuit, combining the traditional Jewish institutions of no-holds barred, hand-to-hand combat and a degree in biological engineering

Rosenthal may have been one of the "originals," but it is unlikely that the badass Jew will die out with him. The Chosen People have shown a remarkable tendency for being as savagely violent as any other race or ethnicity of homo sapiens.