(JTA) — Like so many other American Jews from the New York area, I have been eagerly awaiting “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” the new exhibit on the American Jewish deli now on view at the New-York Historical Society. After all, the deli was our family business.
I grew up on Long Island during the baby boom era, when large groups of Jews moved to the suburbs. New synagogues opened in almost every town, and Jewish bakeries, shops and schools proliferated around them.
My family had its pick of half a dozen kosher delis within 20 minutes of our home. We tried them all but came to especially enjoy Brodie’s Kosher Delicatessen, in the Mitchel Manor Shopping Plaza in East Meadow. Like Brodie’s, most of these delis were modest storefronts, with little ambience and a straightforward menu of traditional Eastern European Jewish food and deli meats. Nothing fancy, but it was kosher and delicious and enjoyed by the whole family.
Eating in any of these delis carried special meaning for us because the experience served as a connection to our extended family, who had a long and rich history in the delicatessen world.
After immigrating from Eastern Europe, my grandfather and his brother established themselves in the food business, eventually starting a kosher catering company. In order to continue supporting their growing families, my great-uncle Abe kept the catering business, and in 1929 my grandfather Morris opened Rubin’s Delicatessen. Located in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, its first location boasted only five tables.
The deli truly was a family business. My grandmother kept the books, my grandfather’s sister Bessie ran the kitchen and my grandfather worked at the deli counter. Bessie made all the home-cooked food, including an unforgettable hearty vegetable soup, meat knishes, russel (fleishig, or meat-based, beet soup), pot roast, roast chicken, eingemacht (a kind of beet candy preserves), taiglach (a dough and honey sweet dessert for Rosh Hashanah), jelly roll and mandlen (soup nuts). During busy times, such as before Passover and Rosh Hashanah, my grandmother and other great aunts came in and worked together to bake 4-pound sponge cakes.
The clientele of Rubin’s was something of a “Who’s Who” of Boston Jewry. As in Jewish delis around the country, businesspeople conducted informal meetings there, rabbis stopped in for lunch during their busy days and customers stopped by to pick up essential provisions or to enjoy a quick bite.
As the years passed and my grandparents got older, discussions about the future of Rubin’s began. Instead of taking over the family business, my father and his brothers pursued career paths outside of the deli, becoming religious leaders and Jewish professionals. My grandparents were proud that their children had pursued white-collar professions. And, in many ways, those children carried on a family business: The spiritual sustenance they provided as rabbis and social workers was an extension of the physical sustenance the deli provided through chicken soup and pastrami sandwiches.
This sense of providing intellectual, emotional and religious nourishment to the Jewish people has continued in various forms through several generations of my family, including my own choices as a Jewish historian, educator and institution builder.
When it finally came time for my grandfather to hang up his apron in June 1974, he had one stipulation when selling the business to his great-nephew: “the Seller has for many years conducted the aforesaid business as a kosher delicatessen and restaurant under the supervision of the Vaad of the Associated Synagogues and wishes to maintain the kosher status of said business so long as the business is conducted under the name of ‘Rubin’ on said premises or on any other premises to which it may be moved.”
After all those years, his final wish was to keep the “kosher” in his “kosher deli.”
Rubin’s changed hands a few more times but eventually closed its doors in the summer of 2016, a milestone noted in Boston Magazine.
For many of us, my family especially, the kosher deli experience wasn’t just about the food (although the food of course was delicious and satisfying). Visiting and eating at a Jewish deli became a safe space, a deep link to previous generations, a fun way to comply with Jewish dietary laws, and a place to feel both Jewish and American. Deli meals didn’t simply provide nourishment, they provided comfort — true comfort food — and a way to connect to some of our Jewish traditions.
“’I’ll Have What She’s Having’: The Jewish Deli” tells the story of how Jewish immigrants like my grandparents helped create a new type of American restaurant and an important piece of American food culture. Reflecting on the many stories I heard about the business growing up, the too-numerous-to-count meals I ate when visiting my grandparents, and the memories of family, Jewish culture and delicious food, I know my visit to the New-York Historical Society will be both emotional and stimulating.
And I think I know what I’ll have for lunch after my visit.
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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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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