HomeAway Hobbies: Jewish Organized Crime

At HomeAway, we recognize that there's much more to our employees than just what they do at the office. As a result, we're launching a regular column called "HomeAway Hobbies" that explores the interests of our team members outside of the birdhouse. The first post comes from Inside Sales Account Manager, Samantha Tugentman. Samantha started working at HomeAway in June 2013 and revealed that one of her personal interests centers around Jewish Organized Crime (can you guess why we wanted to profile her?). But how does one become fixated with such a specific topic? Read on to find out more... 

"When I tell most people about my hobby they either give me a look of confusion because it’s an odd interest for a 26-year-old girl or their reaction is 'WHOA! Cool!' It’s about 50/50."

What attracted you to researching Jewish Organized Crime?  All my life, I heard stories from my mom about my great, great uncle Waxey Gordon (real name: Irving Wexler). He grew up in New York City with a step-mother who would not give him food, so he resorted to stealing. As a result, his “specialty” became pickpocketing and he was so skilled at it that it was as if his victims' wallets were lined with wax- hence the nickname "Waxey." He became a pretty big player in the Jewish organized crime scene (associating with infamous criminals such as Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, and Charles "Lucky" Luciano), especially during Prohibition. He was eventually caught and put in jail (several different times) and ended dying in Alcatraz. Pretty crazy stuff!

When I was a teenager, I became really interested in this mysterious family member and how different his life was than the rest of my ancestors. Before I knew it, I was immersed in books, movies and documentaries about Jewish Organized Crime and its impact on the history of the Jewish American people, as a whole.

What is the most interesting experience that's happened as a result of your hobby? The coolest (and most painful, at times) experience was writing my Honors Thesis during my senior year at the University of Texas at Austin, titled “Mobsters in the Movies: Hollywood’s Depiction of the Jewish Gangster after The Godfather.” I spent the entire year watching mob movies and reading books about gangsters.

Also, in May 2013, I went to New York City and was able to visit Waxey's childhood home on the Lower East Side. It was really amazing to see where he grew up considering he ended up living in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, and then eventually died in a prison cell.

Do you have any tips for anyone who's interested in learning more Jewish Organized Crime?

Definitely! I'd recommend checking out the following movies and books:

  • Movies: Godfather I, II, III, Casino, Bugsy, Once Upon a Time in America, Mobsters, Billy Bathgate
  • Books: "Tough Jews" by Rich Cohen and "The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America" by Albert Fried

And of course, check out "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO (Waxey was actually a character on that show!)