Historian and humorist Ted Merwin will discuss the rise, fall and rise again of the Jewish deli and its role in American Jewish life in a lively presentation at Ithaca College on Thursday, Oct. 25. Merwin’s talk has the same title as his book on the topic: “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli.” Free and open to the public, it will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Textor 101.
One of the foremost authorities on Judaism in America, Merwin is a well-known professor, blogger, journalist, humorist, collector and public intellectual. In addition to “Pastrami on Rye” — which won the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Education and Jewish Identity — he is the author of “In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture.”
Merwin notes that for much of the 20th century, the New York Jewish deli was an iconic institution in both Jewish and American life. As a social space it rivaled — and in some ways surpassed — the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. Ultimately, upwardly mobile American Jews discarded the deli as they transitioned from outsider to insider status in the middle of the century. Now, contemporary Jews are returning the deli to cult status as they seek to reclaim their cultural identities.
An associate professor of religion and Judaic studies and director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life at Dickinson College, Merwin has been a frequent speaker at universities, synagogues, Jewish community centers, libraries, book festivals and museums.