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September 11, 2009

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PAGE 22A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 11,200~ a mlSSlOI2 By Sue Fishkoff SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)-- Chicago and Cleveland have the best corned beef. Detroit is tops for rye bread. The best smoked meat is in Montreal, and for pastrami, you can't touch New York and Los Angeles. When it comes to Jewish delicatessen, 30-year-old David Sax is the go-to guy. A longtime dell aficionado, the annoyingly trim Sax spent three years eating his way through more than 150 Jewish delis to research"Save the Dell: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delica- tessen," a wistful, riotously funny paean to this quint- essential slice of American Jewish history. The book, which will be published in October by Houghton Miflin Harcourt, is a delicious romp through a fast-disappearing world. In 1931, Sax reports, there were 2,000 dells in New York City, three-quarters of them kosher. Today, Sax says, his research turns up 25 Jewish dells in the city, two-thirds of which are kosher. A similar pattern has followed across North America, with city Christopher Farber David Sax ate in more than 150 Jewish delis to research his new book "Save the DelL" after city sounding the death knell for its last ti'aditional dell. Sax guesses there are just a few hundred left world- wide, most of them in the United States. "The Jewish deli is dying," Sax told JTA. "Each time I hear a deli closes, something inside me dies." German immigrants brought the deli to New .York in the 1820s, Sax reports. By the 1870s and '80s, Ger- man Jews had made their own, kosher modifications to the traditional treif reci- pes: schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat, instead of lard; ptcha, or jellied calves' feet, instead of pig trotters. The origins of the first pastrami sandwich is shrouded in mystery, although writer Patricia Volk told Sax her great-grandfather was the first to slap pastrami between two slices of rye bread at his kosher butcher shop in New York in the late 1880s. Sax chronicles the rise and decline of the "kosher-style" deli, anAmerican innovation that originally differed from its kosher counterpart mainly in hours of operation (they did not close on the Sab- bath) and lack of rabbinical supervision. Reaching its heyday in the 1950s and '60s, the kosher-style deli eventu- ally succumbed to economic pressure and popular tastes and began putting cheese on turkey sandwiches, offering milk with coffee and using non-kosher meats. From there, it was an easy hop to serving bacon with French toast. Today few such delis use the term "kosher style," preferring to call themselves Jewish or New York delis. Sax bemoans the rise of glatt kosher, a stricter stan- dard for kosher meat that demands round-the-clock oversight by a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor. He says it puts financial demands on" deli owners that most can- not meet. That's why most new delis are not kosher, he claims--it's just too ex- pensive. "There's a lot of money in hechsher," he says, using the Hebrew for kosher certifica- tion. "It's a turf war that uses religion as leverage." But most of this book is about food, the glori- ously fatty, heart-stopping Ashkenazi cuisine that is the signature of the Jewish deli: braised brisket in wine sance; pickled tongue; cab- bage rolls in sweet-and-sour tomato; matjes herring; and, of course, the litany of "k's," the knishes, kreplach, kugel and kvetching. He saves his highest praise for the deli meats: corned beef pickled and boiled in vats of brine; pastrami, lov- ingly rubbedwith secret spice mixtures, then smoked and steamed to perfection. The way to suss out a good deli, he says, is to order the matzah ball soup and whatever dell meat the city specializes in, be it corned beef, tongue~ pas- trami or smoked beef, a softer, gentler Canadian variant. Although delicatessen originated in Europe, Ameri- can Jews put their own stamp on it. Pastramia, for example, was in its r~ative Romania a method of preparing any meat or poultry, and was in fact originally used most often for duck or goose. In the United States, Romanian Jews applied the same tech- nique to beef, which began pouring in from the great Western plains andwas much cheaper than game poultry. "The Jewish deli is rooted in the flavors of the Old World," Sax says. "Some things are the same, like the chopped liver, the chicken soup. Others are amalgama- tions, like the sandwich, an American thing that the Jewish dells appropriated." A big part of Sax's mission is to encourage young Jews to take over delis at risk of closing or open new ones, a goal that might seem counterintuitive in today's economic climate. But he insists the market for deli food is there, as a new generation looks back nostalgically to a cuisine that represents an earlier, simpler, more comforting era. "People aren't really look- ing for innovation in dell," he insists. "The best things I see in the new delis are a return to tradition." His favorite new Jewish delis are taking advantage of the organic, do- it:yourself movement that is influencing the country's res- taurantscene."It's'innovative' today to pickle your own meat or make your own kishke." In his effort to give props to these newcomers, Sax glosses over the sad but very real possibility that the Jewish deli may not survive outside a few key cities. New York's deli scene has imploded, he says, and new delis in Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo,, may be just flashes in the matzah brie pan. His hopes for the San Francisco Bay Area seem particularly Pollyannaish. Two of the four Jewish delis he describes in his book have closed since he visited them; and of the remaining two, only Saul's Deli in Berkeley rates as a real destination; David's on Geary St., near San Francisco's Union Square, is a dilapidated version of its former self. Two delis to serve a region with more than 350,000 Jews? It's a shanda. aid be By Adam Gaynor NEWYORK (JTA)--Arecent JTA article by Amy Klein, "Are Jewish Boys in Crisis?.," raises some troubling questions. The article reviews research suggesting that boys are less resilient and ambitious than in decades past. Klein, who explores whether this is true for Jews, correctly This Special Issue is full of features relating to financial issues affecting you and Central Florida. Your ad in this Special Section will reach an audience of heads of households who are qualified .business and professional people who have the income necessary to live well today and invest wisely tomorrow. Publication Date: October 30, 2009 Deadline: October 21, 2009 For information Call 407-834-8787 suggests that Jewish boys are probably no worse off than other teenage boys and perhaps have more extensive support networks. The article subsequently explores the "crisis" afflicting boys in Jew- ish education, and asks why Jewish boys are more likely to drop out of Jewish educational programs than Jewish girls. This is where the answers get tricky and where the impact of gender really emerges. Klein paraphrases one prominent Jewish psycholo- gist, Wendy Mogel, who sug- gests that "religious life has opportunities more natural to Jewish girls, like tending to younger kids and teaching them, and socializing, while boys prefer more dangerous and risky activities." Are these really natural, bio- logical impulses or a refection of the way in which boys and girls are socialized to behave by adults? The corpus of feminist developmental research that has emerged over the past 40 years presents significant chal- lenges to Mogel's biological argument. The argument also presumes a narrowly defined Jewish educational standard in which true religious life is relegated to a particular sphere of activitiesna sphere that is subsequently gendered as female: Thus the participation of boys in Jewish life becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: We teach kids what is considered acceptable behavior for boys and girls, then act surprised when they follow the gendered path we have laid. No one should be surprised that Jewish boys and girls avoid or" drop out of most Jewish educational programs. Jewish education is almost always based upon the needs. and desires of adults rather than kids. Adult fears about assimilation, anti-Semitism and intermarriage lead to programs designed and funded by adults that impose rigid definitions of Jewish identity and learning on kids. Adult fears about Jewish- continuity also lead to the misguided notion that Jewish learning can only happen in ex- clusively Jewish environments. Approximately 85 percent to 90 percent of Jewish teenagers attend non-Jewish public and private schools and therefore .have non-Jewish friends. Everything we know about adolescent psychology tells us that teens do not want to be isolated from their friends. So why do we think that isolationist, exclusionary pro- grams are going to speak to this generationofJewishteens? The Curriculum Initiative, which supports Jewish culture and identity at independent high schools, once believed that running Jewish-only programs spearheaded by our educators was the only authentic way to educate Jewish kids. Conse- quently, our student participa- tion rate was underwhelming. The momentwe opened our programs to Jewish students, friends and allies, asked kids about their intellectual and social interests, and col- laboratively created Jewish educational programs with our students, our numbers of regular Jewish Participants soared. More importantly, the per- centage of these participants who were not affiliated with Jewish institutions such as synagogues, youth groups and Jewish camps far surpassed the number of "affiliated" participants. The reality is that the over- whelming majority of Jewish kids and families live in a mul- ticulturalworld. Isolationism, a fervently Orthodox response to modernity, has been rejected by the majority of American Jews in all but one arena: Jew- ish education. Most American Jews choose to live, work and play in multi- cultural communities, butwhen it comes to teachir/g our chil- dren, fear governs Jewish con- tent and practice. We try to rip kids out of their environments and herd them into the closed walls of our institutions rather than meeting themwhere they are physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. The message that this sends is that a fundamental rift exists between their Jewish selves and the rest of who they are and what they experience. This dichotomy is false. The Jewish students I meet realize that identity is fluid, and that this fluidity does not "dilute" their Jewishness." Rather, it acknowledges our human complexity. Jewish learning should be similarly complex in order to help teenagers make sense of the complex world in which they live. When The Cur- ricuIum Initiative asked Jewish students at a boarding school for their ideas on crafting a campus Passover seder, stu- dents responded b~/including the campus Gay-Straight Alli- ance in the program because they felt that the ancient Jew- ish experience of liberation resonated with their sense of contemporary social justice for gays and lesbians. Jewish boys and girls are in crisis only to the extent that they hold a mirror to Jewish adults. Until we are self-reflec- tive about our inability--and the inability of our institu- tions-to meaningfully apply Jewish learning to the lived experiences of teens, we will never keep them interested in Jewish education. Adam Gaynor is the acting executive director of The Cur- riculum Initiative. t