Connect with us


A new exhibit on Jewish delis explores the roots and rise of a uniquely American phenomenon



(New York Jewish Week) — It was a stupendously bad idea to arrive at the press preview for the New-York Historical Society’s new exhibit, “‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli,” on an empty stomach.

The exhibit — which originated at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles and opens in New York on Friday, Nov. 11 — traces the mouthwatering history of the Jewish deli, beginning with the first waves of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These new Americans created a “fusion food born of immigration,” according to the exhibit, adapting Eastern and Central European dishes like pastrami and knishes to meet Jewish dietary needs and serving them all under the same roof.

From there, the exhibit examines how delis evolved and, as Jews left cities for the suburbs in the mid-20th century, how they spread from coast to coast. Relying on a mix of archival materials, informative panels, interactive displays and more, “I’ll Have What She’s Having” seems uniquely designed to make visitors crave a pastrami sandwich.

(Sadly, while a tray of babka and rugelach were laid out for the opening, there is no actual pastrami available on site.)

It’s also, as Louise Mirrer, the president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society said in her opening remarks, “a trip down memory lane” for any native New Yorker.

Most of all, “I’ll Have What She’s Having” establishes the Jewish delicatessen as a uniquely American phenomenon. Writer Lara Rabinovitch, a curator of the exhibit who has a PhD in history and Jewish studies, said there were “important caveats” before she got involved in its creation. “If we’re going to do this exhibition, it cannot be grounded in nostalgia and kitsch,” she told me. “It has to be grounded in research, in archival research, and it has to take the Jewish deli as a part of the American landscape — not as a Jewish niche object of rarified Jewish pleasure.”

The now-shuttered Carnegie Delicatessen in New York in 2008. (Ei Katsumata/Alamy Stock Photo)

“Because, to me, and I fundamentally believe this, the Jewish deli is a part of American culture,” she added. “And it is something that all Americans take part in, in one way or another, whether it’s through pop culture, or through actually going to the Jewish deli, or working in Jewish deli.”

This Americanness is emphasized throughout the exhibit, which includes an area dedicated to Levy’s iconic “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” ad campaign and explanations of how many delis added a wider array of cuisines to attract more diverse customers. There’s also a focus on the deli in pop culture, which includes costumes from the deli scenes seen on the Amazon Prime hit “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Fascinatingly, one thing the exhibit doesn’t do is define what a deli actually is. “We came up with it as a community, a place where people gather to eat Jewish food of one kind or another, but it’s always changing,” Rabinovich said. “I mean, we all know, in certain capacities, what a Jewish deli is. But it’s sort of like pornography — it doesn’t have a definition, but you know it when you see it.”

Case in point: This version of “I’ll Have What She’s Having” has an area dedicated to dairy restaurants — not something that most people would associate with the classic Jewish deli. (For those who keep kosher, delis and dairy restaurants must be kept as separate as the meat- and milk-based dishes that they serve.)

Other New York-centric details include an area dedicated to “Bagels Over Broadway,” examining the relationship between iconic eateries like the Carnegie Deli and Stage Delicatessen — both closed, alas — and the greater theater community. There’s also an area on delis in the outer boroughs, including Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen, which was a popular gathering place for Holocaust survivors in Rego Park, Queens.

Among the compelling artifacts on display are a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda from 1930s; a meat grinder from the early 20th century for making kishke, salami and the like; and matchbooks from delis of yore.

Particularly notable is historical proof that New Yorkers did, in fact, listen to Katz’s Delicatessen’s famous slogan, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army”: On display is a 1944 letter from Italy from Private Benjamin Segan to his fiancée in Manhattan. “I had some tasty Jewish dishes just like home,” he writes, describing how his mother had sent him a, yes, salami.

According to the New-York Historical Society, by the 1930s, there were an estimated 3,000 delis in the city — today, only about a dozen remain. One classic survivor is Katz’s — the setting for the famous “When Harry Met Sally” scene that inspired the title of the exhibit. Third-generation owner Jake Dell told me that “food, tradition-slash-nostalgia, and atmosphere,” are the reasons for his deli’s enduring appeal today.

Among the items on view: a uniform from the 2nd Avenue Deli, left, and costumes from the set of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” (Lisa Keys)

Because, here in New York, especially, there are numerous options for deli delights, from the old-school classics to newer establishments like Frankel’s in Greenpoint. I remarked to Rabinovitch that there is something slightly incongruous about standing beneath the iconic 2nd Avenue Deli sign inside a museum. Here, its Hebraic letters are viewed as an artifact; meanwhile, while it’s no longer at its original Second Avenue location, we could still go there for lunch.

“You don’t have to go that far,” she pointed out. “You can go across the street to Nathan’s hot dog cart. And that is the Jewish deli, also. It’s literally a part of the American landscape. It’s part of the New York landscape. There is a trope, ‘Oh, the deli is dying, you can’t get a pastrami sandwich anywhere.’ We believe the deli is everywhere. It’s just how you think about it.”

As much as I loved this sentiment, I’m not really a street meat kind of person. It was a sunny, unseasonably warm morning, and I had a terrible urge to blow off the rest of the day, head to Katz’s for a pastrami sandwich and spend the afternoon wandering the Lower East Side.

But I had an article to write. So I hopped on a Citi Bike, headed to midtown, and picked up a bagel that I could hold one-handed as I wrote this story.

“‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli” is on view at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, beginning Friday, Nov. 11, 2022 through Sunday, April 2, 2023.

The post A new exhibit on Jewish delis explores the roots and rise of a uniquely American phenomenon appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News