Category Archives: Jewish Culture

Jewish Tough Guys

My latest presentation on Jewish Tough Guys: Boxers and Gangsters as delivered at the JCC of Ann Arbor February 14th, 2018. As always, I wore a special t-shirt for the occasion.

The presentation covers the period between World War I and World War II, when Jews were a dominant group in boxing, producing famous (or infamous) world champions like Max Baer, as well as boxers with memorable names including Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom (nicknamed by author Damon Runyon), Jewey Smith, Ruby Goldstein (“the Jewel of the Ghetto”), King Levinsky (born Harry Krakow) and more. Many of the boxers had ties to organized crime figures such as Rothstein, Lansky, Moses Annenberg, The Purple Gang in Detroit and most famously Murder Inc.

This was an era when Jews were ostracized and lived in ghetto communities such as the Lower East Side or the Brownsville section of Brooklyn where opportunity was limited and Jews had to be tough to survive.

This topic speaks not only to the Jewish experience but to the experience of all immigrant groups in America and has implications for today’s minority groups.

Download as a PDF:

Jewish Tough Guys

From Tragedy to Comedy: The Origins of Jewish Comedy in America

On February 22nd, 2017 I gave a talk on the Origins of Jewish Comedy in America tracing how the American comedy scene evolved from the often tragic experiences of European Jewry. In Western Europe, Jews were struggling with the issues of assimilation versus identity. In the East, the expansion of the Russian Empire had relegated the Jewish populations of Russia and Poland into the Pale of Settlement. Fleeing to America, Jewish immigrants found themselves living in the ghetto of the Lower East Side. Yet somehow these same conditions gave rise to generations of comics that changed theater, film and television in America.

Follow the story of some of these comic geniuses who learned to Laugh Through The Tears:

Laughing Through The Tears

The Men That Made The Atomic Bomb (2016 Edition)

Presented at the JCC of Ann Arbor on July 14th, 2016.

“On August 13th, 1942, the government of the United States began the project that changed human history, the development of the Atomic Bomb. The project was begun under the urging of Jewish physicists Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, would proceed under the direction Robert Oppenheimer and would involve literally dozens of Jewish physicists, chemists and mathematicians. They were aware that they were in a race against the German team that was also engaged in developing a weapon of mass destruction. The fate of the Jewish people and of all humanity hung in the balance.

The Men Who Made The Atomic Bomb (PowerPoint)

The Men Who Made The Atomic Bomb (PDF Version)

The Jewish Comic Book Guys

Presented February 25th, 2016 at the JCC of Ann Arbor

In 1938 the character of Superman would make his first appearance in Action Comics, ushering in the Golden Age of comics and helping to create an industry that is today valued in the billions of dollars. Few people realize that the Man of Steel was created by two Jewish boys out of Cleveland and that he was, in many ways, a direct response to Adolf Hitler.

Copies available as PowerPoint and PDF:

The Jewish Comic Book Guys

The Jewish Comic Book Guys