New Light Lecture Series: “The Invisible Syndicate: Pittsburgh’s Jewish Racketeers, 1920-1980.”

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Like New York City, Cleveland, and Detroit, Pittsburgh has a significant Jewish organized crime history. Eastern European Jews living in the Hill District collaborated with other immigrants — Southern Blacks and Italians — to create informal economies in a city where racism, antisemitism, and generalized xenophobia erected barriers to good jobs, housing, and financial institutions. A small group of Hill District Jews went into bootlegging during Prohibition and then gambling. By 1930, a loosely organized Jewish syndicate occupied a top tier of Pittsburgh’s vice underworld. This presentation explores the social history of Pittsburgh’s less violent counterpart to Cleveland’s “silent syndicate” and Detroit’s “Purple Gang.” These Jewish vice entrepreneurs helped to create some of Pittsburgh’s most enduring brands, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, and were integral to the city’s early entertainment sector as theater and nightclub owners. The program’s arc begins in the Hill District and ends in Squirrel Hill where the invisible syndicate’s leaders had their homes and gambling clubs.

Presented by:  Dr. David Rotenstein is a historian and folklorist living in Fox Chapel. He has a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and he works as a public history consultant and writer

Registration information: The lecture is free but you must register by emailing