Countries My Friends And Family Have Emigrated From To America

Countries My Friends And Family Have Emigrated From To America.

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Warsan Shire

Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica,  Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand,  Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Serbia, Scotland, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.

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Growing up in New York, with immigrant grandparents, the Statue of Liberty meant something. “Tell us the story of when your parents saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time again” we asked.   My mother would say that to her parents and many like them, the statue meant freedom to live in a country where you could be whatever you wanted to be. America was the place to go to flee from oppression, racism, class-ism and poverty. We understood that it was something special to be born in a country with ideals like that.

America is not perfect. We have racism and poverty. But that doesn’t destroy the dreams it was built on. Millions of people came to America to build a better life for themselves and for their families and still do to this day.

On the Statue of Liberty, there are words I know so well: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” That’s the spirit that made me feel like an American.  I wouldn’t be here without that philosophy.

Fly safe.

JAZ

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Ten Immigrant Words That New Yorkers Use

Ten Immigrant Words That New Yorkers Use

“I like good strong words that mean something…” Louisa May Alcott

Whatever their ethnic background, New Yorkers are also all a little Jewish, Spanish and Italian.

In Spanish, the word bodega means warehouse. It is a word that Spanish immigrants brought with them and it transitioned into what would be called a convenience store. Originally owned by Puerto Ricans, it found its way into mainstream New York culture. In my mind I see red and black awnings, signs advertising cold cuts and beer, dusty groceries and  people speaking Spanish. They are not necessarily Spanish owned today,  but still called a bodega. It is used like this. I’m grabbing coffee at the bodega on the corner and then I’ll get on line for tickets. On line is New York for in line. A corner is the best location for a bodega.

Schlep is a word of Yiddish origin. It means to drag, haul, trudge. Schlep can be used as a noun or a verb. He is a schlep (jerk, loser, doesn’t pull his own weight). Move on, he is not worth your time. The verb usage can also include guilt. I schlepped downtown to see you.  This can sometimes translate to, I took two trains and had to stand the whole time.  Train is what New Yorkers call the subway. 

Agita (Ah-jita)  is Italian for heartburn or anxiety. It is something you give your mother. “Don’t tell me these things, you are giving me agita.  It is a common phrase heard by New York teenagers from their moms.

Schmuck is a Yiddish word which means idiot. Is it offensive to call someone a schmuck? Only if you are the person being called one. It definitely sounds a bit harsher than idiot which might make it the better choice. Another meaning is penis. We thought that was hysterical when we were kids. 

Prosciutt.  It is pronounced pra jute. When I was growing up I thought it was the Italian word for ham. Do you want “pra jute” on that?  I never saw it spelled until I was older. I learned that it was prosciutto, a particular kind of ham.

Schvitz is a Yiddish slang term for steam bath but also used to mean sweat. You will see many people schvitzing when they are riding on a subway or bus without air conditioning in the hot, muggy summer. It is not a good look.

Goombah is little confusing to me. I always thought it was an Italian slang word meaning best friend  – like family. Whenever someone introduced me to their goombah, it was always a big Italian guy that you wouldn’t want to mess with. Fuhgedaboutit.

Schmear. I have only heard the term when ordering a bagel in New York. I think it means the right amount of cream cheese to put on a bagel – not too much, not too little. “I will have a pumpernickel bagel with a schmear”.

Paesan is short for paesano and means a fellow Italian countryman. It’s supposed to be a compliment if an Italian calls you paesan. “You love pizza like a paesan.” It is often used like homie.

Klutz. The literal translation from Yiddish would be a block of wood but it is most often used to describe a clumsy person.  That would be me. I’m such a klutz.

Bahdabing, bahdaboom.

Fly safe,

JAZ.

Dying Around Thanksgiving

Dying Around Thanksgiving

“There is no death. People only die when we forget them,” my mother explained shortly before she left me. “If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” Isabel Allende

My mother died the weekend before Thanksgiving. Now I always associate the planning for Thanksgiving with the helplessness I felt knowing that my mother was dying. I need a constructive way to get through the day.  It involves lighting a memorial candle,  going to temple and saying the prayer honoring the dead.  I do something she loved in nature or in culture and I talk to her in my head.

I was supposed to be ready when my mother died. She was ninety-one when she went into the hospital for the first time since the birth of her children. She had a long life.  “Who is the president?,” they ask to check her mental capacity. The correct answer was Bush. Her answer was “Don’t get me started.” I should have been ready, but I wasn’t.

When we lose a parent as an adult, we are supposed to be prepared for this normal life passage, or at least be  more ready to accept it when it does happen. We are expected to pick ourselves up, close the wound quickly and move on. We should not require so much time to “get over it.” This loss is expected and in the natural order of things.

Losing a parent is extremely difficult for most adult children if you have had a good relationship with your parent and even if you haven’t. (That is harder) My husband had left a couple of years before that so loss was becoming a theme in my life. My mother was my best friend and my support system throughout that time.

She was not religious.  But she went to temple one day a year to say the Prayer of Remembrance for her parents. When I was twelve I started offering to go with her. She replied that  she didn’t need company. She was going to say  “Yiska”.  It sounded very mysterious. Yizkor is the Jewish memorial prayer for the dead. The word means remember.

My mother  didn’t believe in celebrating death. She would say, “Do for people while they are alive.” She had stopped going to funerals  for her dying friends many years before. She must have done a lot because one hundred and fifty people who I did not know showed up for her memorial service and many spoke. They were her theatre community.  They were the people she had met and given theatre tickets to throughout her life. She opened their world or she shared their love for the arts right up to the end. They became her friends and ranged in age from thirty five to a hundred. 

My mother had requested that her ashes be spread over Lincoln Center and Broadway, so she did not miss anything. ‘When you come and visit me, see a play, ballet or an opera”, she said. None of us knew when we said yes, that it was illegal, but we did it.

I sit in temple feeling a weird kind of peace.  “Who is in the first seven days of mourning?”, asks the rabbi.   “Who is in the first eleven months of mourning?  Who is celebrating a yortzheit today?” I stand and say her name.  The ritual seems to help me. As we start the prayer, “yit gadal va yit gadash….  I struggle to keep up with the words in Aramaic. I have the same conversation with my mom every time I say the prayer.  “What are you doing in temple on such a beautiful day?” she asks.

I leave the temple thinking of  a conversation that I recently had with my children. “Can you get us Hamilton tickets in NY?” asks my son. “No,” I reply.  “If Nana was alive, we would have seen it already,“ said my daughter. “If Nana was alive, we would have seen it in preview, at the Public Theatre for half price,” he answered. My son said that he would try for the day of show ticket lottery when he is in New York. The legacy lives on. 

Happy Thanksgiving and Fly Safe Mom

JAZ

Foods That I Grew Up Eating For Lunch In New York

Foods That I Grew Up Eating For Lunch In New York

“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?” Douglas Adams

When I was a kid, we did not have the lunch choices that are available to our children today. Lunch usually involved two pieces of bread. There were two or three small delis on a block. If you lived in an Italian or Chinese neighborhood, there were several of those restaurants on the block as well. New York’s wealth of immigrants honed our eating habits and favorite foods.

Coffee shops and luncheonettes were on every street. Coffee shops were what we now call casual dining restaurants. Despite that these places primarily sold sit-down meals and not just coffee, you were usually welcome to sit in one for hours while ordering nothing but coffee with free refills.They had a lunch counter in the front with round stools and small tables in the back. They served burgers, grilled cheese, BLTs, pancakes and scrambled eggs. No lattes, almond milk or farm to table eggs with a side of avocado and chicken sausage. If you wanted fresh fruit it was half a grapefruit or cantaloupe and cottage cheese. No smoothies or green juice.  Cottage cheese was the diet food of diners and luncheonettes.  If you didn’t want grease and carbs, the diet plates were cottage cheese and cantaloupe, cottage cheese and tuna or cottage cheese and a burger patty.No one there had ever heard of kale.The coffee shops were often owned by Greek immigrants and had Greek specialties on the menu.

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The egg cream is the iconic growing up in New York drink. Everyone has a best egg cream story from a lunch counter somewhere. There is no egg in it – only chocolate syrup, seltzer and milk. The seltzer should be fresh from a soda gun . The most important thing is the correct ratio of chocolate to seltzer to milk and the frothy head with flecks of chocolate syrup at the top of the glass. U- Bet is the chocolate syrup of choice for egg creams.

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The Hebrew National Deli in my neighborhood was part deli and part convenience/grocery store. I think it had a few tables in the back but we never sat there. We usually got  grilled frankfurters with mustard and sauerkraut to go and walked and ate them. Hot Dogs are the original street food in New York and sold out of carts on corners in Manhattan. I always found it odd to sit at a table in LA and eat a hot dog with my kids.

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The deli was located across the street from Mrs Stahls legendary, dingy knish store on Brighton Beach Avenue under the elevated train. A knish is baked dough with a filling. I remember cheese, kasha or potato. I’m not a knish fan. The smell would hit you when you got off the train and I would often find one in my hand from my mother who thought I should be eating more.

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Sometimes we rode our bikes on Sundays to Nathans in Coney Island. We had hot dogs and fries. The hot dog popped when you bit into it with a perfect blend of meat and spices. The fries were not thin but thick, crinkly cut and fried to perfection. Nathan’s was  located on the corner of Surf and Sillwell Avenues in a neighborhood where you stayed aware of your surroundings. My parents went as kids when the mobsters and film stars frequented the place. By the time we got there, Coney Island was a shabby version of its former splendor. We still rode the Cyclone and Ferris Wheel but it was before the hipsters and gentrification.

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New York had such a large Italian immigrant population that pizza places were everywhere. Everyone had their favorite but they were all good. A New York pizza is traditionally hand tossed and I have memories of some seriously skilled pizza tossers. High gluten flour and NY water are credited with giving the crust its unique taste. It is made with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and traditionally cut into eight slices. The New York way to eat a slice of pizza is to pick it up and eat it flat to get the full flavor. You can fold it when it gets messy but a knife and fork will immediately peg you as an out of towner. The crust is not paper-thin. It’s not thick like Chicago. It is in between. There are no chicken and sweet sauce or pineapple toppings . It was sausage, pepperoni or red peppers.

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When I wasn’t having pizza for lunch, I would be eating a meatball hero sandwich. It was meatballs with tomato sauce topped with melted cheese between two slices of Italian bread. I have never seen meatballs served like that in Italy. It was a NY Italian American spaghetti joint meal. The Italian restaurants in my neighborhood were Sicilian. There was always a lot of red sauce, shellfish, pasta, bread, red wine and cannolis. We sat in restaurants with red and white checked tablecloths and posters of Italian tourist attractions eating those very messy sandwiches.

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Blimpies was the original submarine sandwich fast food chain. It was shredded lettuce with tomatoes on cold cuts with red wine vinegar and oil. A salad on a sandwich was unheard of in Brooklyn and people used to line up to get them.

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I still eat all these foods for lunch. Living in LA, it is more about turkey burgers and turkey hot dogs. I’m trying not to eat gluten – unless I’m eating pizza. I ate Subway sandwiches with my kids when they were young.  I wouldn’t attempt to find a good egg cream or cannoli in LA.  Your environment teaches you what comfort food is. Pizza is still my favorite food.  Every once in a while I will go to Carneys, wait on line at Pinks or order the meatballs at Jon and Vinnys for a taste of my childhood.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Walking In New York With My Mom

Walking In New York With My Mom

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” Rebecca Solnit

I moved in with my mom in my very early twenties because I wanted to save money for traveling. It wasn’t my first choice of places to live but spending summers in Greece was much more appealing to me than paying rent in Manhattan.

Her passion was theatre. There was not a lot of money but she knew every way to get free or discount tickets to the theatre, ballet, symphony and opera in NY.  It was pre – internet and a lot harder to find things out. My mother went out six nights and three matinees a week. Theatres in Manhattan are dark on Monday nights. My mom saw the previews, pre closings, dress rehearsals, hits, flops, shows that never opened and shows that ran now and forever. We called it “her ticket business” though she never made any money from it. Most of the time there were many free tickets which she could not let go to waste. Hours were spent calling people. My mother felt that if she was in possession of these tickets, it was her job to bring joy to as many people as possible and fill up the theatres. I found it very annoying but I was twenty-two and everything that wasn’t about me was annoying.

Sometimes we would go to a matinee together. We would walk from East 18th st to West Broadway somewhere in the forties. Those of you familiar with cross town traffic in NY know that walking is usually faster anyway. It was an opportunity to spend time together and learn to relate to each other as adults.

My mother was legally blind from the time she was seventeen so walking with her was always interesting. We walked up Second Ave passed a small NY park (one square block of green). People were shooting up, selling drugs, smoking pot or exposing themselves. ”Aren’t we lucky to have this beautiful bit of green in the midst of all these tall buildings?” she asks. I tell her what she is missing. She laughs and says “Sometimes it’s good not to see.”

We walk up 23rd st near the School Of Visual Arts where the arty kids are hanging out in interesting street wear and hairdos. They are photographing. drawing, and taking notes. We continue passed the many discount stores that used to be there. We called them yoyo stores (because they sold anything they could sell cheaply – from apples to yoyos.) We see a large group of deaf children. They are signing. My mother sighs. “I feel so sorry for deaf people. They can never hear music.” I said,“Don’t worry about them, they feel sorry for you.” She laughs again and tells me I am a rotten kid.

On Third Avenue a boy is playing the violin on the street. She gives him a dollar .“Thank you so much. I love Mendelssohn’s  Concerto in E major“. He is so pleased that someone knew what he was playing. I was impressed. I have a hard time remembering the names of classical music.  She explained to me that she is now finished with her charity for today.” I put a dollar in my pocket every day and I give it to the first homeless person that asks me. It is my way of helping the homeless in our city”. I wasn’t sure that he was homeless but I did not tell her that.

She stepped off the curb about to cross the street at the red light. I gently hold her back. It always worried me when she would do stuff like that because I don’t know how she got across the street alone. She said that she went with the crowd and was never hit by a car in 91 years so I guess it worked.

My mom was a really good listener. She was my rock who I ran to when I was confused. I talked about whatever problems I was having that week as we walked up to Park Ave. She always knew what the right thing to do was and could sort out my problems and mess of emotions. I stopped to buy a pretzel with mustard from a cart on the street. “If you walk a few more blocks east, there is a woman who sells fresher pretzels.” I don’t ask how she knows this because she doesn’t usually eat pretzels.

At 34th st, we come to the Empire State Building. “You never wanted to go up to the top,” she said. “I still don’t,” I said in my grown up voice. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world for forty years. Now it is the fourth tallest building in the world and a cultural icon of New York City. Years later my mother would take my four year old son to the top without me.

We passed the NY Public Library at Fifth Ave and 42nd st. Two stone lions guard the entrance. Though originally named Astor and Lennox (after the library founders) Mayor Fiorello La Guardia renamed them Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression. The huge Beaux Arts structure opened in 1911 and was the largest library at that time.    My mom speaks. “We are so lucky to have this beautiful building in NY.  The Rose Reading Room is so lovely. They have a wonderful collection of books on tape and they are so helpful with recommendations. I am reading Deepok Chopra.” I remembered when they didn’t have books on tape. She listened to operas and symphonies a lot. I guess that is how she knows Mendelssohn.

She tells me about the play in preview she has seen the night before. It isn’t going to open because the play needs work but the music was beautiful and the acting was fantastic. My mother could never say anything bad about a “show.”

We get to Rockefeller Center and see the imposing bronze statue of Atlas holding the heavens on Fifth Avenue. We cut through and pass the gold statue of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind, throngs of tourists and fourteen art deco buildings from the 1930’s. We passed Radio City Music Hall built in the 1930s with 6000 seats. It was called Radio City because that is what the complex of NBC and RCA studios that housed the Music Hall was called in the days of radio. The renovated interior is a great example of art deco design.

We are going to the Circle In The Square Theatre on Broadway but first she has to drop off tickets at the Longacre Theatre on 48th st and the Ambassador Theatre on 49th. Her friends are all ages and always waiting for her. “Look for someone in a green coat.” she says to me.  I steer her in the right direction. When they see her, they come toward her.   She proudly introduces me. I smile. They are all avid theatre goers and are planning what they are going to see that night.

We finally walk into the theatre. She takes out a very large Hershey Bar from her purse and says to the usher,“You looked so tired the last time I was here I thought you might need this.” She asks the usher where her seats are (even though she knew the location of every seat in every theatre in Manhattan). The usher says “I think we can do better.“ She brings us to the excellent house seats. “It’s good to be nice to people,” my mom tells me and takes out her binoculars as the curtain is going up.

Fly safe Mom,

JAZ

The City – New York

The City   –   New York

“New York City has finally hired women to pick up the garbage, which makes sense to me, since, as I’ve discovered, a good bit of being a woman consists of picking up garbage.” Ann Quindlen

The city was what one called it if you lived in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, New Jersey or Long Island. If you were a certain kind of girl growing up in Brooklyn, everything in the city (Manhattan) was better. I rode the subway for an hour to get my hair cut at Bergdorf Goodman.  I would come home and rewash it and blow dry it the way I wanted it to look. I was sure that anything I did in the city would make me chic and cool. A hamburger in the city just tasted better to me.

I knew that if I lived in the city all my problems would be solved. I got my wish. My parents got divorced and we moved to the city. We were no longer bridge and tunnel people or the family we were before. I still had my Brooklyn accent but I was ready for my life to completely change.

I would finally be a grown up. I would kill water bugs and cockroaches without screaming for help. I would not be afraid of crazy homeless people. I would shop at Gristedes, Dean and Deluca and Zabars instead of Waldbaums or the A and P.  I would walk to theatres, museums, restaurants, clubs, bars, Bloomingdales and Bendels.  I would take taxis everywhere.

I actually stopped riding the subway when I lived in Manhattan. Growing up riding the efficient yet terrifying crime ridden NY subway daily has left me with a fear of subways. (Pre Mayor Guiliani who cleaned up the city). Commuting is a way of life for every New York kid. I was commuting to school from the time I was eleven years old. I saw muggings, heard gunshots, dealt with the tough kids, gropers and saw people drunk, violent or crazy on a daily basis.The bystander’s avoid eye contact indifference I have from growing up in NY is something I still work on. The street smarts I learned there help a lot when traveling in foreign countries.

But I love everything about Manhattan. I love crowded streets, vertical architecture, beautiful well dressed people, whistling obscenity yelling construction workers, downtown black uniforms, the pace, the lights, skyscrapers, pretzel carts, noise, Chinese food, coats, Sunday Times, different languages all talking simultaneously, unfriendliness, Broadway, cultural activities,  galleries, museums, coffee shops, not pristine streets and the anonymity.

Living in New York City is not an easy, comfortable life. You fight the elements daily – traffic, crime, crowds, weather and indifference. You do not have the sensation that you live in a protected bubble.  You are always aware of potential dangers out in the world. It is not for everyone.

You may not be able to keep the world out, but you get the entire world. You are exposed to people of every type, kind and ethnicity, who teach you about how many different ways there are to live this life. You have access to great opportunities as a result of your location. You never feel there is a place in the world where more exciting things are happening than where you are.

A place does not change your life. It is what you do with it and how you react to it which causes change. There are certain places where it is easier to find out who you really are and what your uniqueness is in the world. For me New York was such a place. I look back at it fondly because it was the place where I was so young and anything was possible.

Fly Safe,

JAZ

The Delicatessen – Growing Up In New York

The Delicatessen- Growing Up in New York

“As I see it, there are two kinds of people in this world; people who love delis and people you shouldn’t associate with.” Damon Runyon

I just saw Deli Man. a documentary film that chronicles the delicatessens that opened up in the twenties on the lower east side of New York City. . They started as German restaurants. As the Eastern European Jewish immigrants began coming to America they brought the foods of Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Russia. The film tells the stories of  the rise of the delis and the Jewish immigrants. Their success and technology erased the old traditional urban blocks with everything you need run by mom and pop storefronts and delis on every block. In the 1930s New York had fifteen hundred Jewish delis. Now there are about twenty left. As the Jewish population assimilates and we all become foodies, we don’t just eat Jewish food anymore.

In other cultures  such as Mexican, Italian and Asian, there are always new immigrants coming in and cooking and wanting the food from their countries. There is no more Eastern European Jewish culture. The ones who live here have assimilated and the Holocaust took care of the rest. The Deli Culture is dying out.

There were two or three small delis on a block where I was growing up. There were larger deli restaurants as well. The people who worked in the delis had been there forever. They were the old timers and warranted a certain amount of respect. There was a kind of familiarity that the waiters and waitresses had – like they knew you for your whole life, even if they didn’t. They could be funny, mildly insulting and roll their eyes while you ordered everything on the side or asked for the fat to be cut off the corn beef.

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I was brought up on natural and health foods at a time that no one was. People who ate like this and exercised regularly were called heath nuts. Now they are called normal. Everyone that I knew except my family was eating Wonder Bread, Hershey Bars, Frosted Flakes and drinking Cokes and lemonade.There was no Whole Foods or McDonald’s.

We had fruit and vegetable stores so we always had plates of fresh sliced fruit and vegetables after school – not that anyone wanted that, but it was there so we ate it. We made our own candy out of peanut butter, raw coconut and honey. It was definitely more fun to make it with our hands than eat it. Our package desserts included Fig Newtons and something inedible called halvah. (It wasn’t till I went to Turkey that I found out that when it was served fresh it was delicious.) I thought Fig Newtons were inedible also. I can’t believe they are still around. We had some green herbal thing in a salt shaker that they tried to pass off as salt. We drank orange juice and we could have had a V8 instead of the cokes we longed for. We ate meat that was very rare, sometimes it looked right off the cow – blood for the blood. I don’t think I ever ate brisket until I was much older and to this day I do not like potted meat (in Yiddish gedempte flaisch)

We did not eat out because the kitchens were dirty and unsanitary in most restaurants – according to my father. It was before the rating system and they probably were. We did not use aerosol sprays because he said there was a hole in the atmosphere – something only he knew about so I was sure it was untrue. We did not have a car because it caused pollution and had to ride our bikes everywhere or take public transportation. Everyone else had cars. I was sure he was wrong about that as well.

But for some reason, delis were ok. I never asked why. Maybe it was the food of their childhood, their parents who I never met, the lower East Side of Manhattan – food they knew. We could have knishes, blintzes, sour pickles from a barrel, frankfurters, muenster cheese, peppery roast beef and they would let us order a chocolate egg cream. Occasionally we would have pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on fresh rye bread.  We ate a lot of smoked fish. Those small smoked golden white fish  had a lot of bones but they tasted good and I guess they were cheap. We were not rich and lox was expensive even then. My mother would buy a ¼ lb of lox and could easily feed six people on bagel and lox sandwiches that were mostly cream cheese. I think those neighborhood delis probably kept me alive because there was not much I was eating at home. I stopped in one every day.

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We could not have salami or bologna because “we didn’t know what was in it and there were probably chemical additives”. I grew up bringing ham sandwiches to school for lunch and lying and saying it was bologna because the Jewish people in my neighborhood did not eat ham. We used to eat Lithuanian black pumpernickel bread. I dreamed about having white bread sandwiches like everyone else. I’m not much of a bread person now unless I see that black whole grain bread of my childhood and then I can eat the whole loaf. Mayonnaise on meat still grosses me out and I’ve lived in California for a long time.

The other foods in the delis were weird to me. “What is that?,” we would ask. Stuffed kishka – skin – ew really?), chopped liver–yuk, , gribenes – fried chicken skin -uh, schmaltz, -chicken fat – gross, borscht – beet soup, (I cannot eat beets in any form), kasha –buckwheat, kreplach – dough floating in soup with liver and onions in it, kugel -noodle pudding, matzoh balls – dumplings made from matzoh that were really big and heavy), tzimmes – root vegetables and varnishkes – pasta with kasha. It all sounded awful and I’ve never liked it. But when I see it and smell it now, it always reminds me of my mom and the stories she would tell of how her mother made those foods.

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When I turned thirteen years old,  I started having summer jobs and my own money. I began going to diners, coffee shops, Italian and Chinese restaurants. I drank cokes. I ate pistachio nuts with the red dye on them that got all over your fingers, red M and Ms (we grew up in fear of red dye #2 and BHA and BHT – which was a preservative in packaged sugar cereal),  Bonomo Turkish Taffy – the kind that was really bad for your teeth and Carvel swirl ice cream cones.  I was rebelling. But NY delis were always around. You could smell the food as you walked down the street. It was the comfortable smell of my childhood and I thought it would always be there.

With the demise of Delis and  the Yiddish language comes the loss of our Eastern European cultural roots. With the pursuit of complete assimilation into American culture, and the absence of new Eastern European Jewish immigrants, we lost our history and we are losing our food.

I did not pass on the cultural traditions and Yiddish phrases of their grandparents to my children. They don’t know about their life on the lower east side of NY in the thirties and forties. They don’t know the stories from Yiddish theatre and vaudeville that my mother used to tell or the Eastern European melodies I heard growing up.  They don’t know the old Jewish comedians, the Borscht Belt, the Catskills or that we were the people of the clarinet. But they do know a good pastrami sandwich and a black and white cookie and that Nate and Al’s Deli makes a delicious chicken soup when you are sick.

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Fly safe,

JAZ