Some 80 years ago, “Big Mose” Barnett, a notorious Minneapolis gangland chief, sent his crew to shake down a dry cleaner by the name of Samuel Shapiro. When Shapiro refused to pay, Barnett’s thugs sprayed down his customers’ clothes with acid.
Modern stereotypes notwithstanding, Jewish gangs were no joke in the 1920s. And they weren’t above rubbing out nosey journalists. None of the local newspapers would touch the Shapiro story — except one: a weekly rag called the Saturday Press, published by a certain Jay M. Near. That lone tabloid made a difference. When Near wrote a scathing article about Shapiro’s plight, embarrassed prosecutors moved against Barnett’s men.
Unfortunately, apart from being a fearless scourge of the underworld, Near was also quite the politically incorrect hothead. One of his Saturday Press articles, for instance, declared that “practically every vendor of vile hooch, every owner of a moonshine still, every snake-faced gangster and exbryonic yegg in the Twin Cities is a Jew.” (Don’t ask me what a yegg is, let alone an “exbryonic” one. I have no idea.)
I know what side I’m on. But yeggs like me and Ezra can take this battle only so far. What we really need to lead this movement is a Canadian Brandeis. Mr. Cotler, what do you say?