Pastrami on wry with the Texan macher keeping deli culture alive
Loosen your belts, the Deli Man is coming.
Erik Greenberg Anjou’s forthcoming documentary about the dying (but perhaps reviving!) culture of Jewish delicatessens is a meal with many courses. Part of it is history, about the links found in taste and smell to an Old Country that exists only in the memories of our elders. But another part is more celebratory, as today’s chefs search for a way to honor the past while still eyeing the future.
Among the more charismatic figures in the film is Ziggy Gruber, a macher in the Houston, Texas Jewish community and one of the more “purist” figures detailed in the movie. “Since he’s been a little kid, he’s been an 80 year-old Jew” is how Gruber is described in the trailer. His quest to preserve and promote old schul recipes is something of the spine of Anjou’s film.
I love good deli as much as the next guy, but this is very depressing.
Based on the trailer, for the people in this film, their entire connection to Judaism is a good pastrami sandwich, a few Yiddish phrases and Hava Nagila playing ironically in the background.
Practically none of the modern "Jewish delis" profiled in the traiier are kosher. So what exactly makes them "Jewish?"
There is something very sad about people who substitute "gastronomic Judaism" for the real thing. They are so concerned about delis disappearing - but it looks like that they don't care about Judaism as much as they care about Hungarian goulash and matzoh ball soup.
Judaism has a rich culture. Jewish food (in particular, American Jewish food from the first half of the 20th century) is only a tiny part of that culture. It is sad that too many people seem to care more about this tiny subset of Jewish culture than they do about Judaism itself.
Nostalgia cannot be a lasting basis for people's connection to their culture. For a culture to survive, one live it today, not just remember it.