The apple falls just far enough from the tree in Lisa Novick Goldberg’s book about her family’s ties to the Mafia

July 27, 2021

What’s Happening

Originally published in the May 31, 2021 issue. 

Monday, June 14,12 pm, Zoom
Free with pre-registration required at JewishVA.org/BookFest

Robyn Sidersky

When Lisa Novick Goldberg was a child, she was often around Mafia figures—Venero Frank “Benny Eggs” Mangano was her father’s best friend. She also knew Johnny Barbato and others associated with the Genovese crime family.

But she didn’t know her father, Hebert “Big John” Novick, was their “money man” and deeply involved until much later in life. The realization came with a grand jury subpoena.

The experience, growing up in that environment, and then learning what was really going on, profoundly shaped her life.

Goldberg writes about her family, and their impact on her life, in her book, The Apple and The Shady Tree: The Mafia, My Family and Me. She will speak about it as part of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and Simon Family JCC’s Lee and Bernard Family Jewish Book Festival.

“I have been telling these crazy stories about my family and the characters I grew up with to my friends, and they said ‘this is wild, this is something that should be developed into a book or screenplay,’” Goldberg says, in a phone interview from her home in Florida.

So when her husband was receiving cancer treatments and they had to take a break from their active social life in 2015, she buckled down and wrote the book. It took four years and a lot of encouragement from her therapist, she says.

At the beginning of the process, she had nightmares about reliving the trial and the aftermath, finding out the truth from the FBI, and other fears she had.

But by the end, it was better and provided catharsis.

“It really has freed up a lot of the fears I have had over the years,” she says.

She didn’t fear retaliation because she “didn’t throw anyone under the bus” and didn’t want to do anything to harm anyone. It also didn’t hurt that many of the main players are either dead or in jail.

Growing up, she straddled two worlds: one with Ivy League schools, elite friends with movers and shakers as parents, and this secret struggle at home.

Goldberg’s relationship with her father changed over time and it was not until the year before he died, 2009, that they got everything out in the open with each other.

As a young child, she could never get enough of him because he was always gone, she says. His relationship with her mother was also contentious. Goldberg says in retrospect, both suffered from mental health issues.

“Through analysis, I can see he was far from perfect,” she says.

In December 1988, everything changed when she appeared before a grand jury in a trial that brought down the five families involved in the Mafia in metropolitan New York. It sent Goldberg into a deep depression, she lost 20 pounds, and could not function. She started taking a drug new at the time called Prozac.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Goldberg looked at her father differently, more critically. When she researched the book, she learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the FBI had 27,000 entries on her dad, the extent of his involvement, and rise in the Genovese crime family.

Her father and her first husband hated each other, and she says that contributed to her divorce. Her second, and current husband, is a retired circuit court judge.

Goldberg’s relationship with her mother, now 88, is also complicated. But the two are close and talk on the phone every day.

“The reason I’m not in an insane asylum or a drug addict or alcoholic is because of certain adaptive techniques I was able to do very successfully,” she says, quoting her therapist.

“Very early on, I knew the house I grew up in was crazy,” she says. “What I would do is seek out people who were sympathetic to me, who I could learn from, who were mentors to me.”

Goldberg modeled herself after them, and when raising her daughter, Maggie, she tried to do the opposite of what her parents did with her. She’s also supportive of Maggie and her own mental health issues.

The title of the book is a double entendre. It references the famous saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”—something her parents used to say to her when she acted like the other parent, as a criticism. But also, Goldberg is the apple, and her father is the shady tree, and his murky business background.

Among the book’s themes are a father-daughter relationship in the shadow of the Mafia, mental health, and a discovery of Judaism.

To find out more about the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater & Simon Family JCC’S Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival, purchase The Apple and the Shady Tree: The Mafia, My Family and Me, and register for the event, visit jewishva.org/bookfest or contact Jill Grossman, director, arts+ideas at jgrossman@ujft.org or 757-965-6137.

United Jewish Federation of Tidewater & Simon Family JCC’S Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival is held in coordination with the Jewish Book Council, the only organization in the organized American Jewish community whose sole purpose is the promotion of Jewish books.


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