I know I said I wasn’t going to post anything until after the book was in, but my friend Brad Rubin at Chicago’s 11 City Diner emailed me the most wonderful article by journalist Ron Rosenbaum, which appeared on Slate.com just before the year’s end. Yes it concerns the 2nd Ave Deli, but read about the wider implications, especially near the end. This piece goes beyond the realm of simple nostalgia, into the very heart of why we love and need to save the deli.
When I first heard about the rebirth of the Second Avenue Deli, I had a feeling the place was stalking me. For years when I lived downtown, this pastrami palace—one of New York City’s last iconic, non-tourist-attraction temples of schmaltz (not the metaphoric kind but the liquid chicken fat that infuses so many of its dishes)—was a siren song.
For this nonobservant Jew it was perhaps the most tangible aspect of my Jewish identity, a Proustian connection to the vision of shtetl life one finds in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work. Not just the food but the whole aura of the place, the locale in the heart of the former Yiddish theater district where you could find gold stars with the names of the one-time luminaries of that once thriving, now virtually vanished world, embedded—in imitation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame—in the gritty sidewalk of lower Second Avenue in front of the deli.