For much of the 20th century, the corner Jewish deli was an iconic institution in both Jewish and American life—a kind of homeland for the soul, with pickles on the side. As a social space it rivaled the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. At the same time the deli became an icon in popular culture, featured in a plethora of plays, films, TV shows, songs, and stand-up routines. From John Belushi’s “Samurai Deli” skit on Saturday Night Live to Rob Reiner’s late-1980s rom com, When Harry Met Sally, to the scenes in the Stage Deli in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the deli and its fare have been embraced by Jews and non-Jews alike as a delicious emblem of Jewish culture in America. But does the deli have a future in an age of health-consciousness, gourmet food trends, and fusion cuisine? And what, if anything, has taken the place of the deli as a “secular synagogue” for Jews to get together in a non-religious space?
Jewish Studies programming is supported by the Fund for the Jewish Future of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, and The Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies Educational Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.