Book Club Discussion

The Yiddish Gangster’s Daughter


Since separating from her philandering husband, Boca Raton writer Becks Ruchinsky has struggled to build a closer relationship with her quirky and contentious father, Tootsie, who lives in a retirement home. One evening, as she and her father are relaxing on the home’s front porch, an elderly woman accuses Tootsie of having murdered her husband fifty years earlier.

Tootsie admits to ratting on the man, who’d cheated their Jewish syndicate boss out of thousands of dollars, but denies killing the widow’s husband. He also admits to having friends in the Jewish mafia and shares stories about his experiences.  But the more time she spends with her father, the more convinced Becks becomes that Tootsie is lying about his involvement.  Determined to discover the truth about her dad’s past, she sets out on a journey to undercover his darkest secrets. She learns he worked for the Jewish mafia –running numbers for the Cuban lottery, beating up Nazi sympathizers, and smuggling arms to Israeli independence fighters. When she learns that he murdered his best friend and, possibly, his own brother, she must decide if she can accept his criminal past – or cut him out of her life.

The Yiddish Gangster’s Daughter also explores the impact our parents’ relationships have on our own. Throughout the book, Becks challenges her father on his infidelity toward her mother and becomes frustrated by his refusal to acknowledge that what he did was hurtful to his entire family.  She’s upset when Tootsie minimizes her own husband’s recent affair and encourages her to take him back. Ultimately, Becks realizes that she cannot forgive her husband for his behavior until she comes to terms with her father’s infidelities…and her mother’s willingness to put up with them.

1.     Do you think we tend to fall into the behavioral patterns of our parents with our partner? Can we escape their mold to create healthier relationships?

2.     Do you think Becks went overboard in her refusal to forgive Daniel for so long?

3.     Does Daniel’s explanation of his affair seem reasonable or at least understandable?

4.     Have you ever learned something about your parents that totally stunned you?

5.     Do you think Becks overstepped her father’s privacy by investigating his past? Have you ever done anything like that?

6.     Many people have memories of gangsters – or men reputed to be gangsters – among their neighbors and friends.  Were you surprised to learn a neighbor or friend had ties to the Jewish or Italian mafia? Did your parents forbid you from associating with their children?

7.     When Esther asks Becks why she still talks to her father, Becks explains that she is making sure she has no regrets after he dies. Is that a common sentiment? Do you or a friend have a difficult parent, but persist in the relationship to avoid regrets?

8.     Were you surprised by the actions of the gangsters in this novel? For example, smuggling arms for the Israeli War of Independence and beating up Nazis.

9.     Why do you think men of Tootsie’s generation looked up to these gangsters?  Consider the fact that many of the events in the novel occurred during and after the slaughter of Jews during World War 2.

10.  Do you think Americans’ attitudes towards these gangsters have changed over the years? Why?