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SJCF: Lansky (film discussion)

Saratoga Jewish Cultural Festival, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and the sponsorship of Temple Sinai, presents a Zoom discussion of the 2021 film Lansky on Monday, August 14, at 7 PM. The film is structured so that Lansky is an old man telling his story to a down and out journalist looking for a break on a big story.

Lansky was known as the Mob’s Accountant and notorious for operating criminal rackets from Miami to Las Vegas to Cuba. He was notorious for using his brains more than violence. Although the gun was rarely in his hand, he ordered quite a few people murdered who got in the way of his business. While an active criminal for more than a half century, he avoided major prison time, serving only a few months on a gambling charge, which, by the way, occurred in Saratoga. He managed to live to old age, dying of cancer at 80.

Most films have avoided much exploration of their characters’ Jewish identity; however, this film is up front about the importance of Jewishness to Lansky’s story. In the run-up to World War II, he is seen brawling with Nazi sympathizers from the German-American bund. He is seen saying Kaddish in a synagogue. He says I’m an American and a Jew. He promised aid and helped the new State of Israel, sending money during their critical early years, although cynical when Israel deported him back to the US after he immigrated to avoid criminal prosecution.

“Lansky, born in Russia in 1902, came to the US as a child in 1911,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of the SJCF, “and became the most famous Jewish gangster of all time, founder of the largest crime organization in American history while also a father, friend, genius, criminal, and patriot…..a complicated man.”

The Lansky panel discussion will be held on August 14 at 7 PM. Registration is required at sjca.sjcf@gmail.com to receive Zoom access. It can be viewed free on Amazon Prime Video and Kanopy, and is for rent at Amazon, Apple TV, and You Tube, among others.