Forward Looking Back brings you the stories that were making news in the Forward’s Yiddish paper 100, 75, and 50 years ago. Check back each week for a new set of illuminating, edifying and sometimes wacky clippings from the Jewish past.
1913 •100 years ago
Gangster Billy Lustig Shot
New York City Police suspect that a young woman named Tessie Harris lured Velvl “Billy” Lustig, a Lower East Side gangster, to Humpty Jackson’s 14th Street restaurant. Once Lustig was seated, three men approached him; they all pulled out revolvers and began shooting at Lustig. Hit three times, Lustig survived; he is currently recovering at Bellevue Hospital, where he has told the police not only that Harris had nothing to do with the attack, but also that he himself doesn’t even know who the three shooters are or who sent them. The gunmen, who made their escape through the rear of the restaurant, where a black sedan was waiting to help them, all left their revolvers on the sidewalk. Though the police don’t have any solid leads, they believe that the Lustig shooting is related to last month’s murder of a gangster, Max Levine, on 14th Street.
1938 •75 years ago
Rabbi Busted for Smuggling Opium
The Parisian press is ablaze with a sensational story about a “Grand Rabbi” from Brooklyn by the name of Isaac Laufer who was arrested recently for attempting to smuggle opium in the spines of large numbers of Jewish holy books, among them siddurim, machzorim and Talmuds. The “rabbi” and one of his assistants requested of a Parisian bookbinder that he hollow out the spines of all these texts so that the rabbi could insert bags of what he called “earth from the Land of Israel” but was, in reality, heroin. The French press has been full of stories about Laufer and, in fact, did its homework and discovered that he is not actually a rabbi. He is, however, fanatically religious and is known by local Jews to complain about the irreligiosity of Parisian Jews, especially the religious ones.
1963 •50 years ago
Anti-Semitism in the USSR
A few days after returning from a trip to the Soviet Union, W. Averell Harriman, America’s undersecretary of state, said that the government would do what it could to convince the Soviets to give its Jewish citizens the right to free emigration, although he added that he wasn’t sure if it was possible. He noted that anti-Semitism is still a problem in the USSR, and even though life there is a bit easier since the death of Stalin, Jews still face very much discrimination. Harriman added that in order to fight Soviet anti-Semitism, it is of value to expose it as much as possible to the wider world so that popular opinion would pressure the Soviets to change their policies.