Aired March 2, 2013 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/dXEmeT2NOd8
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of March 3rd, 2013.
Oh, woe is me. Woe are all of us. There was a story in the Los Angeles Times this week about the decline of the Jewish deli in American life. The story bemoaned the closing of the 50-year-old Junior’s Deli in L.A., and the 75-year-old Stage Deli in New York. There used to be thousands of delicatessens in Manhattan, now there are dozens. And delis are being deleted from other major cities, too.
Why is this? All sorts of reasons. Changing demographics, the generation that grew up feasting on tubes of salami is now eating through a tube, and the younger people have so many choices of where to eat and what to eat. It’s hard to blame them when they don’t go for the old pickles-on-the-table, toothpick-in-the-brisket standbys. Also not helping is our so-called health consciousness, which sees
fatty meat and red meat and cured meat and smoked meat as the four horsemeats of the apocalypse. Oh sure, McDonald’s and Burger King aren’t exactly dishing out broccoli quinoa, but you can buy a happy meal for five dollars. Try finding a heaping brisket sandwich for less than a sawbuck.
Deli owners complain they have to increase prices because food costs keep rising, rent goes up, and insurance is through the roof. Which, if you figure every third person in a Jewish deli is a candidate for a bypass or old enough for a plot in Baron Hirsch, you can see why.
Some delicatessens are going with the flow. They’re serving egg-white omelettes, they’re offering Cajun burgers, they’re doing paninis instead of blinis. The co-owner of Canter’s restaurant told the L.A. Times, “You don’t need to just have rye bread and pastrami to have a deli sandwich.” I agree. You also need Russian dressing and potato salad.
Yet we have to endure stories about delis in San Francisco bringing in homemade sodas and drinks – and removing Dr. Browns. A deli without Dr. Brown’s cream or black cherry soda? Is the world truly coming to an end? My God, Dr. Brown’s are the people who made a soda out of celery. The single most useless, hated vegetable on earth, and some genius at Dr. Brown’s made a delicious – well, tolerable – carbonated beverage out of it. And they say deli’s not health food. Pooey!
Look, I understand the need to change with the times, but you don’t fix what isn’t broken, and a good pastrami sandwich, cut thick, on fresh rye, with a shtickel of red pepper, is going to outlast doomsday – let alone garden burgers and tofu chicken. Things are cyclical, and just the way Yiddish has been brought back around by a new generation of Orthodox Jews, and just like record albums are selling again thanks to audiophiles and scary black people, I believe the virtues of an old-fashioned Jewish deli are bound to rebound in the public imagination. Much the way a chopped-liver sandwich ricochets from your stomach to your heart to your throat to your intestines to your eyes. You eat it once, you’re still eating it three days later – that’s value!
So let us not yet say kaddish for kishke and hymns for Hebrew National. Let us hope that owners of Jewish and Kosher delis – which are not the same, by the way. If someone hands you a corned beef on white toast with Swiss cheese over it, you’re probably not in a kosher establishment. If somebody hands you a pastrami with ham over it, you’re probably in hell. But either way, let us hope the deli owners find a way to keep prices down, quality up, hot dogs on the grill, pickles on the dill, kasha and knishes, herring and whitefishes, Celray in our glasses, and cellulite on our asses.
Anyone who has a belly knows the beauty of a deli.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
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