Meyer Lansky’s religious upbringing and cultural background as a Jew played conflicting roles during his lifetime. He was never particularly religious after leaving his parents’ home. Neither of his sons was Bar Mitzvah, and after the death of Lansky’s father, he chose not to continue the Hebrew tradition of honoring the father on the anniversary of his death. Whether that was because of Lansky’s disdain for his weak father or because he had turned his back on his faith is really unknown.

"He was never Jewish-minded when we were growing up," said his son Buddy. "The Christmas trees, the bacon – no Bar Mitzvah…. We didn’t know what Jewish was."

But as time went on and Lansky grew older, his Jewish heritage came to mean more and more for him. He visited Israel for the first time when he was almost 60 years old, and the visit to the Holy Lands re-ignited a passion for his culture.

By 1970, hounded by the police, wiretapped by the FBI and under surveillance at every turn, Meyer Lansky decided to join his friend Doc Stacher in Israel. After living in Israel for several months, Lansky decided to take advantage of the country’s unique immigration law, the Law of Return, which states that every Jew in the world is eligible to become an Israeli citizen. Every Jew save for those with "a criminal past, likely to endanger the public welfare."

Lansky engaged several attorneys in order to secure his rightful place as an Israeli citizen. "I have no criminal past which is likely to cause a breach of the peace and I am not now likely to endanger the peace in any country," Lansky wrote to the Ministry of Interior.

Things looked favorable for Lansky and his second wife, Teddy, until the Israeli press caught wind that Meyer Lansky, the chairman of the mob board of directors was in Tel Aviv. Photographers stalked the Lanskys and newspapers reported that he was planning on continuing his racketeering in Israel. It wouldn’t have been hard to do, but Lansky was fairly close to being retired by this time.

In the end, when Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir found out Lansky was connected to "the Mafia" she intervened in the naturalization process and Lansky was turned out of the country.

From Israel, Lansky traveled to Zurich and quickly left Switzerland for South America. He was trying to stay one step ahead of the FBI which wanted to arrest him on racketeering charges. But Paraguay would not accept him either and he was placed on an airplane whose final destination was Panama City, Florida. There would be no escape for Lansky this time.

Immediately after the plan touched down in Florida, FBI agents arrest Lansky and he was held until he posted a $250,000 bail. From jail, Lansky checked into the Mount Sinai Hospital for observation – the stress of the 13,000 mile journey from Tel Aviv to South America through Latin America to Florida had taken its toll on the heart of the 70-year-old Lansky.

In the federal court in Miami, Meyer Lansky, proclaimed by the Miami Herald as "the Gangland Finance Chairman" was convicted of contempt of court for failing to return from Israel two years earlier to answer a grand jury’s questions. He was sentenced to a year-and-a-day in jail.

Soon afterward, with his contempt conviction on appeal, Lansky was tried for tax evasion, despite his ill health and need for oxygen and almost constant medical attention. The jury in this case took little time in finding against the government and for Lansky. Meanwhile, the 5th Circuit court overturned his contempt conviction. Finally, the third case which had precipitated Lansky’s deportation from Israel, was dropped by the government after an unfavorable ruling by the judge.

"He was able to go to his grave laughing that he whipped us all," said one FBI agent.

1. The Mythical Meyer

2. A Fortune Found

3. Bugs & Meyer Mob

4. Meeting with the Brain

5. Italian and the Jew

6. The Carpet Joints

7. Havana

8. Vegas

9. Israel

10. Lansky's Legacy

11. Bibliography

12. The Author
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