There are many explanations for the storied cupidity of the Jewish people. Some argue that laws in Christian Europe forced us to work disproportionately in fields of finance. Others feel that Jews, like the dwarf king Alberich, are biologically predisposed to loving the golden stuff. And yet others posit a divine origin; that God blessed both of Abraham’s sons, giving Ishmael the oil, and Isaac the folding money. To be sure, not all Jews are rich, and not all rich Jews are bastards. But as the-far-from-exhaustive list below suggests, there are certainly no shortage of Jews who are out there working overtime to make sure the stereotype applies to us all.
Shylock (circa 1597): On the face of it, Shylock got a pretty raw deal—his daughter converts and marries a goy, the legal system screws him out of a major debt, and he ends up looking like the bad guy. Somehow, Shylock—literature’s most famous failure when it comes to debt collection—has become synonymous with loan shark. How quickly we forget that it is Antonio, and not Shylock, who is the play’s titular merchant.
Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836): According to the official history, Nathan Rothschild’s agents informed him of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo before anyone else in England knew and Rothschild immediately informed the British government. According to legend, however, he duped people into thinking that Napoleon had won, setting off a panic on the floor of the London exchange, which allowed him to pick up the stocks they dumped at discount prices. Like the man in the movie said, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Fagin (1838): Poor, poor Fagin—he took in orphans, taught them a trade, and all he had to show for his troubles was a date with the hangman’s noose. Gone he is, but certainly not forgotten, as Time Magazine reminded readers in 1977 when instructing them on the proper pronunciation of Prime Minister Begin’s name, which, as Time pointed out, “rhymes with Fagin.” Reviled though he still may be, he did get his own graphic novel from Will Eisner, which is more than can be said for any other of Dickens’ characters.
Judah Benjamin (1811-1884): The swingin’ semitic senator from the great state of Louisiana let the good times roll him all the way to becoming Attorney General, Secretary of War, and ultimately, Secretary of State of the Confederate States of America. At the war’s end, he fled to England where he became a tremendously successful barrister. As for the money, well, not only was his picture on the Confederate two-dollar bill; it also appeared on Confederate five hundred dollar treasury bonds, demonstrating that then, as now, it really was all about the Benjamins.
Fredericka Mandelbaum (1818-1894): As Fagin was to fictitious nineteenth century London, “Marm” Mandelbaum was to real nineteenth century New York. The German-Jewish immigrant started her own school for pickpockets out of her husband’s Lower East Side haberdashery that ultimately blossomed into the largest fencing racket in New York City. Famed for her generosity—she was always willing to bail out her contractors—and her soirees, she was certainly more beloved than Fagin, at least in the underworld. When Mandelbaum was arrested for her role in organizing a bank robbery, she jumped bail and fled to Canada with over $1 million in cash, and died a wealthy woman.Â
Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928): Known as “The Brain,” Rothstein, son of a respectable Jewish businessman, was a legendary crime figure even during his own lifetime. Whether it was fixing the 1919 World Series, mentoring rising young hoods like Lansky and Luciano, serving as the model for both The Great Gatsby‘s Meyer Wolfheim and Guys and Dolls‘ Nathan Detroit, or defining gangster fashion so completely that it ended up becoming gangsta fashion, Rothstein lived large. Shot to death in 1928, allegedly over a gambling debt, he went to his grave the way he lived, keeping his cards close, his mouth shut, and his winnings big—the day he died he stood to collect over half a million dollars on the election of that year.
Robert Maxwell (1923-1991): Born Jan Ludvik Hoch in Czechoslovakia, he moved to England, adopted a new name and became both a Member of Commons and a press lord. A Jewy version of Rupert Murdoch, with whom he had a rivalry, “The Bouncing Czech” saw his spectacular rise end in a meteoric fall when he went overboard from his yacht and drowned. Rumors swirled that he was killed by the Mossad—for whom he allegedly worked for years—when he tried to shake them down for money to pay his mounting bills. Without question is the fact that he had propped up his empire with hundreds of millions looted from his companies’ pension funds, and that he still had enough left over to buy a burial plot on the Mount of Olives.
Ivan Boesky (1937-): Perhaps no one symbolizes the infamously greedy 80’s more than Ivan Boesky. Son of a Detroit restaurateur (translation; titty bar owner), he rose to the top of the Wall Street wolf pack and was invited to deliver the commencement address at the UC-Berkeley School of Business in 1986 where he delivered the immortal line, “Greed is Healthy.” Insider trading by contrast, is not, and led to Mr. Boesky spending some time in Club Fed (though not as much time as he would have spent had he not decided to take some of his friends and colleagues down with him).
Jezdimir Vasiljevic (1948-): To be sure, it’s never a good thing when, as in the case of Serbia in the early ’90s, your economy becomes dependent on a pyramid scheme. It’s an even worse thing, however, when the arms-dealing, chess-loving, bank president who’s running the scheme absconds to Israel with the money. Funny, his name doesn’t look Jewish.
Aaron Spelling (1923-): It’s precisely because he’s done so much fine work that we can’t forgive his trespasses. Already rich as Croesus, Spelling just couldn’t stop lusting after the green stuff, even if it meant adding Ted McGinley to the cast of the Love Boat, or replacing Tattoo with Lawrence on Fantasy Island, or standing idly by while his daughter got what may be the worst boob job in TV history, all to help prolong interest in shows that should have been allowed to die with dignity. Count your money, Spelling, and know that your crimes need no Shakespeare to be immortalized; long after the depredations of Robert Maxwell have been forgotten, the haunting memories of Seventh Heaven will live on and on and on…
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH BY RUSSELL EIDA