Monday, February 24, 2020

(Courtesy of Hebrew Free Loan Society of New Jersey) Like all great mafia stories, Myron Sugerman’s starts in New Jersey.

He was the son of a bootlegger—the “greatest moneymaking opportunity for immigrants,” as Myron puts it—turned casino operator (or, at least, coin-operated slot machine operator), and it didn’t take long for Sugerman to formally join the Jewish mafia.

Sugerman was there for the wars between Abner “Longie” Zwillman, the “Al Capone of New Jersey” and Richard “The Boot” Boiardo, and he was the first line of defense for Newark’s pushcart peddlers. His adventures led him past the boundaries of the garden state to every continent but Antarctica, often working alongside—or against—powerful mafia families like the Genovese or the Gambinos. He brushed shoulders, or worse, with famous gangsters like Meyer Lansky, Joe “Doc” Stacher and Tony Bananas Caponigro.

Along the way, Sugerman learned something interesting: the thin, often-traversed line between criminal and hero, between gangster and freedom fighter. How the same man, born in two different times and places, could grow up to be two totally different people. How close the Jewish mafia was to Palestine’s underground Haganah army. “Had I been born in Israel,” Sugerman often says, “I would’ve been a soldier.”

For the Jewish mafia, that line was incredibly thin. In the Newark of Sugerman’s youth, the mafia was comprised of young men, like himself, running to protect Jewish peddlers from anti-Semitic thugs. They were loosely organized, bound mostly by a desire to stand up to the abuse and hatred their parents had fled from in Europe. That feeling buoyed them for generations; Sugerman tells the riveting story of how he and his fellow mobsters helped fight Nazis, found the State of Israel and even trace Joseph Mengele and other war criminals though South America.

It’s an incredible story—and one that can still be heard from the 81-year-old man himself. It’s a story of crime, adventure, history and religion. And one of New Jersey, the place where it all started. And, now, it’s coming back to New Jersey.

On June 13, Sugerman will be recounting his adventures at Congregation Oheb Shalom in South Orange, New Jersey. He’s hosted by Hebrew Free Loan of New Jersey, which provides interest-free loans to the New Jersey Jewish community, helping people get out of debt, start new businesses and even to start a family. Cover is only $15, and it goes to a great cause. Register at hebrewfreeloanofnj.org/event.

It’s an event you can’t refuse.

Date: June 13, 2019

Time: 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Location: Oheb Shalom Congregation: 170 Scotland Road, South Orange, NJ 07079

Tickets: $15 (in advance), $18 (at the door).