Howard Lewis Binstock Oct 16, 2008
You know, I write an awful lot about the death of delis, and occasionally the death of deli men, but I’m especially sad today to write about the death of a deli fan.
I never met Howard Binstock, never even spoke to him on the phone or saw his face. But when his wife Myra emailed me via his address the other day to tell me of his passing, I was really saddened.
Howard loved deli. He grew up in Toronto, a member of the Silverstein rye baking family, whose fondest memories were of the halycon days of Baldwin street and the family bakery.
“With religious punctuality, (pun intended), my Zada would pick me up on Saturday mornings at 8 p.m. sharp. I wasn’t yet old enough to appreciate the fact that he was depositing a store-house of memories into my memory bank for me to savor years and years later. All I knew then was that I
had to drag myself out of bed at 7 p.m. because after one loud honk of the Buick’s horn I best be at the front door. On Saturday the bakery was closed for Shabbos, but, that didn’t mean that the scent didn’t overwhelm me the minute I
crossed the threshold into the shop. On regular days, when the store was open the kaiser rolls were in a wooden barrel at the front door along with a second barrel that was filled to almost overflowing with soft, sweet, honey-coloured dinner rolls. As I walked toward the white patterned marble counter that extended the entire width of the store and held the National Brand cash register, I could see the wooden shelves that housed the rye bread at the extreme right side, piled sometimes two and three layers high. The next set of shelves was home to the black bread followed by the challahs (only late on Friday afternoons so it would still be fresh).
As I grew older, starting at about the age of six or seven, I was allowed to ‘work’ in the store on Sundays. That was the time that my Bubby taught me how to take a steaming hot Kaiser roll two doors over to Mandel’s Creamery and have Mrs. Mandel shmeer it full to overflowing with puffs of freshly made cream cheese. When I first started going to Mandel’s on my own I used to be afraid of Mrs. Mandel because she wore a shitel. Despite the fact that I was told over and over again that there was nothing to be afraid of, nonetheless, I continued to be somewhat reluctant to go to the
store alone because she always looked ‘weird’ to me. So, it was one stop at Mandels and then next door to Karton’s Grocery Store to pull a bottle of ice cold Coca Cola out of the water and ice filled container at the back of the store. Mrs. Karton always took the pennies out of my clenched hand, three of them, because between the bottle and the kaiser I was afraid that something very precious would drop onto the floor and be gone forever. Finally, I’d go to the kitchen at the back of our store where I’d get a shaker of salt and put some on my by now almost melting cream cheese.
I’d then, in summer and autumn, sit outside the store on a long wooden bench and taste heaven with every mouth watering bite that I took. Nothing tastes as good as it did then – nothing! What could make a better memory than sitting outside on that bench, watching the chestnuts fall from the tree in the Autumn as I literally wiled away the hours in a dream-like state.”
Howard came by way of Save the Deli just over a year ago, but he wan an ardent, and feverish fan. He visited daily, commented many many times (look for Dr. Behavior), and sent me tremendous quantities of emails, detailing his love for deli, his livelong experiences in delis, and his experiments to replicate good deli food (smoking and curing his own pastrami) in the Northern California town where he lived. His enthusiasm was palpable, though not unknown to this deli lover’s world, and his words would give me a hit of joy on the days when I loathed writing more posts. He passed along articles, links, and news that he was planning something big…a deli perhaps, or a mail order catalog of delis. Though a practicing psychologist, he wanted his golden years to be spread with schmaltz.
He was clearly a true mensch. When Ike Starkman died last year and I wrote about it, many people commented quite nastily about the passing of the man who closed Rascal House. Not Howard: “Heartfelt sympahy to his entire family. In this day and age Mr. Starkman died quite a young man and that’s the true nature of the personal tragedy.”
This summer Howard was diagnosed with lung cancer. I didn’t hear much from him in the past months, his last comment coming on September 7th, when I wrote about Katz’s deli closing in Phoenix.
“Noch an imglick – A deli ist shver arbeit un mere darf hoben a such mazel.”
My Yiddish is nonexistent, but I think in the spirit of Howard’s energetic commentary, I’d invite all who care to translate and leave condolences here. He was truly one of us and he lived to save the deli.
Donations can be made to:
Howard Binstock Memorial Fund
c/o The Benjamin Foundation
3429 Bathurst Street, Toronto
M6A 2C3 (416) 780-0324