(New York Jewish Week) — Mafia movies will have you believe that wise guys aren’t born, they’re made. But that wasn’t the case for Myron Sugerman, a second-generation Jewish gangster who is the subject of the new documentary, “Last Man Standing: The Chronicles of Myron Sugerman.”
Sugerman — who made his mark (and his money) by becoming, as he says in the film, the “godfather of the illegal slot machine business” — took up the mantle from his father, Barney “Sugie” Sugerman, who kept company with and served as a partner in the New Jersey Jewish mob alongside the likes of Abner “Longy” Zwillman, Joe “Doc” Stacher and Abe Green.
In his heyday, Sugie cavorted with the legendary mobster Meyer Lansky, as well as some other bold-faced names who made their money a little more honestly, like singers Perry Como and Tony Bennett.
“Our lives were basically in Newark and Manhattan,” Sugerman, 85, says in the documentary. “Tenth Avenue on the west side was Jukebox Row. From 42nd Street all the way up to 45th, 46th Street were all jukebox operators. I would go into the city in the afternoon after school, and on Friday nights we used to go to Madison Square Garden with all the fellas who worked for my father.”
Per Sugerman, his father “missed nothing” — he had his hand in everything from “bootlegging, boxing, fixing fights, thievery” to “jukeboxes, vending machines, pinball machines, slot machines,” all of which were either illegal or could be used as fronts in money laundering schemes.
But these Jewish mobsters could be called upon for nobler pursuits as well. In 1939, Newark was home to both large Jewish and German populations — Fritz Kuhn, leader of the American Nazi party, included. As Sugerman tells it, Kuhn and his cronies would follow their meetings and rallies with trips into Jewish neighborhoods where they would terrorize their residents. Together with the Jewish prize fighter Nat Arno, Sugie’s associate Longy Zwillman formed an association called The Minutemen, named after the New Englanders who took up arms against the British.
The Newark Minutemen would throw stink bombs into the halls where Nazis met. “As the Nazis came running out, our guys were like a gauntlet. They’re standing there with the monkey wrenches and baseball bats and brass knuckles. And they beat the s*** out of these Nazis,” as Sugerman tells it.
Sugerman’s version of these stories might be lost to time if it weren’t for director Jonny Caplan and his production company Tech Talk Media. Released last January — and now available to stream on Amazon Prime — Caplan’s film features extensive interviews with Sugerman himself, a character who might remind you of your own Jewish grandfather — and also the guy who keeps putting the fix on the temple’s bingo game.
In a recent Zoom interview, Caplan told the New York Jewish Week that he was “kind of blown away” when he first heard Sugerman’s story, courtesy of a colleague who was helping Sugerman with his 2019 memoir, “The Chronicles of The Last Jewish Gangster: From Meyer to Myron.”
Later Caplan watched Sugerman’s interviews online. “He’s just such an amazing character that I fell in love with,” Caplan said. Although Tech Talk mostly covers the world of innovation — previous productions include documentaries about flying taxis and “robots that look after the elderly” — Caplan said they couldn’t resist bringing Sugerman’s story to life.
Born in 1938, Sugerman took up the family business at the age of 21, following his graduation from Bucknell University. Fluent in six languages (seven, if you count profanity, as Sugerman says in the documentary), he was given $3,000 in travelers checks by his father and sent off to Europe to start an “export business.” Sugerman hit a number of countries on the Continent, all while building his reputation and ability to sell pinball machines, slot machines and arcade equipment.
Eventually, Sugerman’s specialty would become Bally Bingo pinball machines, an addictive, “dynamite” arcade game that attracted gamblers and operators who handed out prizes. After its interstate shipment was banned in the United States in 1963, Sugerman would buy parts from all over the country in order to get the machines assembled. “I was the biggest contrabandist and bootlegger of Bally Bingo machines across the states,” he recalls in the documentary. Those efforts got him named in three state cases and three federal cases for illegal gambling and organized crime. And yes, he did serve jail time.
In a highlight of the documentary, Sugmeran is eventually connected with the famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Five years after the capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1960, Sugerman happened to find himself in Vienna. Feeling galvanized by the successful hunt for the man who drew up the plans for the Holocaust, Sugerman knocked on Wiesenthal’s door and asked how he could be of service. The answer, like so many other things in life, was money.
“I was religious every week — we sent very generous amounts of money to Wiesenthal,” Sugerman says in the film. The pair struck up a friendship, and with each trip Wiesenthal took to New York City, Sugerman says Wiesenthal’s first call was to him. Eventually, prior to one of Sugerman’s trips to Asuncion, Paraguay, Wiesenthal asked the contrabandist to get him information regarding the whereabouts of notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who was rumored to have decamped there. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you enjoyed seeing Nazis killed in the film “Inglourious Basterds,” you might like how this story ends.
Sugerman provides details of his life, confessional style, as he leads the camera crew to local haunts in Little Italy and Brooklyn’s Kings Highway. Along the way, he meets friends who help him tell his tales of the old days, like “Baby John” Delutro, also known as “The Cannoli King,” and Johnny Chinatown, who points out a Chinatown landmark seen in “The Godfather.” Both are 20-plus years Sugerman’s junior, but still have ties to the Mafia life he knows and loves. (Those old days might be gone, but the incredible nicknames persist.)
At Grill Point, a now-shuttered kosher restaurant in Brooklyn, we see Sugerman chatting with Moishe Peretz, a retired mob boss who calmly recalls getting shot in the chest in 2016.
Though the mob plays a central role in Sugerman’s identity, his Jewish bona fides are just as significant. “The Jewish gangster really had a need, a psychological need, to show that the Jews could be just as tough as any other ethnicity, because they were going to break with the 2,000 years of our heads down, living in the ghetto, living fearful,” he says in the film. “There was definitely no identity crisis. These Jews were tough and ready to prove it.”
These days, Sugerman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife, Clara. Though his life may be quieter now, his sense of humor and joie de vivre endure, and now as much as ever he’s committed to the work of defending the Jewish people. “Most guys at 85 years of age, if they’re lucky to be alive, are sitting in front of a lawn of grass, watching the grass grow,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “But I’m not comfortable — I’m not comfortable when the hair on the head of a Jew is moved out of place by an antisemite.”
To that end, Sugerman is putting together an organization with the goal of promoting Jewish pride — and he encourages all those interested in joining to reach out via his website.
More than anything, the toughness and tenacity of the Jewish people is a message that Sugerman wants to continue to send today. “That the era of bending your head, that the era of dismissing antisemitism as a mosquito on the tuchus of an elephant is over with,” he said.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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