When people hear the word mafia they think speakeasies or places like PlayCroco online casino or their equivalent in-person establishments. But do you really take the time to think about what it is like to live in the actual community where they live?

In the late 1990s (1995 – 2000), I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I lived in an area called “Old City”. It is the area that has Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin’s Court, etc. I lived in the area between 5th and 9th street, in the area several blocks east of Independence Hall.

It is an area where the “Mafia” lived. The area did not scream the Mafia, but for the people who lived in the community, we knew it was there. There was the local Italian take out place that had the best cheesesteak sandwiches in Philadelphia, but rumor had it that it was also owned by the mob.

What to expect when you first move into a community that is protected by the Mafia?

Ask anybody who lives in the community, and they will all tell you the same story. Within 2 weeks of moving into the community, the people associated with the Mafia welcome you to the community. I experienced it. After I got married, my husband experienced it. Everybody experiences it. But it is not a bad experience.

Looking back on it, it was actually quite nice. One day, as I started my walk to work, a man in a trench coat welcomed me to the neighborhood. He asked me when I moved in. Did I work in town or was I a student. He was very friendly, and very polite, and essentially just welcomed me to the neighborhood.

Was the Mafia introducing themselves to everybody in the community a bad thing?

Actually no, because these people knew everybody in the community. They knew who lived in the community and who didn’t live in the community. They were essentially acting like a community watch group. Everybody got a welcome visit, and everybody talked about it, so it was not a secret. But nobody was bothered by it. It was more like an impression that these people cared about their community, and they were not going to let anything “bad” happen on their turf.

Can we learn from the Mafia on how to make our communities better in a post “Defund the police” atmosphere?

It is kind of weird to think about it. Looking at the societal behavioral patterns of the Mafia in order to learn how to make our communities better and safer outside of the traditional framework of the police. But we can. As Pirkei Avos says, “A wise person learns from everyone.”

By the Mafia physically going out of their way to greet every single person who moves to a community, it builds a connection and a positive feeling. They became a sort of community watch group. They knew who lived in the community and who did not live in the community, because they went out of their way to welcome the newcomers.

Other groups did the same thing. I can only speak from the Jewish community perspective, but if you went to the small local synagogue, the “regulars” always went out of their way to welcome and greet the “newcomers”. There were community meals that were social events, and the community leaders / “regulars” (not just the official Rabbis) went out of their way to make sure that everybody had some place to go for lunch. Single, married, old, young, black, white, rich, poor … it did not matter.

It is like the difference between being a sperm provider and a father. One is a biological fact (sperm provider) and one is a state of mind that a person has to choose on their own to take on that label (father). Philadelphia is a city. You physically live within its boundaries, you live in Philadelphia. But as for a community, you are not part of a community unless you choose to be part of that community.

A community is a relationship that you invest in, and somebody has to take that first step.

In this community in Philadelphia, the Mafia took the first step when they went out of their way to welcome newcomers to the community. Other people did the same thing in other ways. From my personal experience, the synagogue Jewish prayer communities.

But you do not have to be part of the Mafia or an Orthodox Jew to accomplish the same thing in your own community. You can form your own community watch group, and your own community welcome group. You can also start your own community meals. You can make it potluck (to keep the costs down). Meet at the same time in the same place once a week. It can become a place where people can come together to become a “community”.

Welcome package

This is not connected to the Mafia, but it is something that I experienced in Philadelphia, and have never seen done in any other community.

Another thing that Philadelphia, specifically the Jewish community did, was to create a “Welcome package”. In 1990 it cost me $15.00. Some of the items in the package were things that you could easily pick up in a local visitor’s center (for example, a map of Philadelphia — a time before Google Maps was on every phone). But in 1990 with no Google, being several states away, items in that package were a lifesaver.

Even in today’s standards, I would still find something like that useful to have before moving into a community. They had a “magazine” that focused on the great Philadelphia community. It had the electric company, phone company, cable company, shopping malls, schools, list of neighborhoods, as well as places of worship.

Yes, there were some paid ads in the magazine (what magazine doesn’t have that). But that also allowed local plumbers, electricians, movers, carpenters, auto mechanics, to advertise their services to customers who could directly benefit from their services.

20 years later

It is now 20 years later since I was welcomed to the community by the Mafia. When I think back on that time, I only have positive thoughts. It is strange, because usually when people think about the Mafia, they think in terms of gambling, prostitution, drive by shootings, etc.

But when I think about the ones that I have physically met and I have physically interacted with and have spoken with others who had personally interacted with these people, I don’t think about those things.

I think about the fact that they were dedicated to their community. They were polite people who welcomed newcomers. And essentially they were the community watch group that helped to keep the community safe.

Many communities today can learn a lot from the positive society behaviors of the Mafia with the most important being, “Don’t judge a group by stereotypes”.