Consider the exiled East Village Jew: She sits in a 350-square-foot walk-up tenement inferior to the one her great-grandmother occupied a hundred years earlier. She hasn’t been to shul in years. Her Sri Lankan boyfriend took her for a whole hog feast at Daisy May for their anniversary. But there’s still a way for her to get back to her Jewish roots, because Seymour Burton is doing a Seder on April 20, the second night of Passover.
The Jews of New York, PBS’s new documentary, could have any number of heroes; we were pleased to see that the family behind downtown lox legend Russ & Daughters was chosen to represent the New York–immigrant experience. As we recently noted here, their Houston Street store is one of the only things keeping the old Lower East Side’s Jewish life from disappearing into history. As scion Josh Russ Tupper tells us, “We’re perpetuating and cultivating the culture of Jewish experience. And whether we’re religious and go to temple is independent of the fact that we’re providing an experience of the Jewish–immigrant era of New York. It’s really important to maintain what it was like and what it is like.” Not to mention, they have some very nice herring there.
Russes among stars of ‘The Jews of New York’ [Alfred University]
The 2nd Avenue Deli is back. But is it a harbinger of a Jewish renaissance or just the last fading pang of New York’s Jewish twilight? The question is raised in today’s issue of The Jewish Week, and it’s a good one. Despite the return of Chez Lebewohl, the world of Jewish food is already little more than a memory: Take away a few landmarks like Russ and Daughters, Katz’s, Yonah Schimmel, and Sammy’s Roumanian, and the entire world of Jewish food would be as forgotten as the Punic Wars. All the dairy restaurants, Romanian steakhouses, cafeterias, candy stores, bakeries, appetizing stores — they’re already forgotten, even in distant Brooklyn and Queens. The Week asked Arthur Schwartz, probably the city’s foremost authority on old-time New York food, and he gives a dismal picture: “Schwartz maintains that Jewish food has suffered greatly in quality over the last few decades, since Jews tend to eat their own food only on holidays — ‘and then we make everything we know, and then everyone gets sick.’” Add to that contemporary Jews' horror of the fatty meats that were the Jewish kitchen’s stock in trade, and you have a recipe for cultural oblivion. Can a revived 2nd Avenue Deli, or the brisket revival staged by a few barbejews, stem the tide? Stranger things have happened.
‘Not Just A Deli Like Any Other' [Jewish Week]
Related: It's Time to Get Excited About the Second Avenue Deli