Undiscarded: Stories of New York, Episode 3 (Letters From A Sign)

Listen to the FULL EPISODE here or search for “Undiscarded” wherever you get your podcasts…

The City Reliquary Museum & Civic Organization is known for its unique partnerships with organizations and institutions throughout the city. Currently, one of its famous & beloved artifacts is on loan at New York’s oldest museum, the New York Historical Society. The original 2nd Ave Deli sign was rescued and bought to the Reliquary when the Deli closed down after a dispute with the landlord—sadly, not a new phenomenon. The two remaining parts of the sign, “2nd” and “Ave,” can be seen on display in the Historical Society’s exhibit,“I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli (organized by the Skirball Jewish Center). The exhibit, which features neon signs, menus, displays, and an in-depth look at the history, importance, and evolution of the Jewish Cusines in America, closes on April 2nd, 2023, and I highly recommend visiting and it will make you hungry.

It was truly special to journey uptown to this historic institution and interview Jack Lebewohl, the current owner of the 2nd Ave Deli, within the expansive exhibit hall, a stark contrast to the cozy confines of the Reliquary. Jack was brimming with stories the moment he entered. In fact, I had to forgo the pleasantries and start recording almost immediately to capture all the gems he shared.

I felt transported as he vividly recounted his family’s migration from Europe after the Holocaust, his brother’s beginnings working in Coney Island, the glamorous stars who frequented the Deli, and the tragic, unsolved death of his brother Abe in the 90s.

Original 2nd Ave Deli Location, courtesy 2nd Ave Deli
Abe Lebewohl, the original owner of the 2nd Ave Deli & Mohammad Ali
Chopped Liver Day
Original 2nd Ave Deli dining room

Intertwined with Jack’s personal history and the demise of the Jewish Deli is the familiar story of change in New York. The integration of the immigrant communties and the shifting demographics of neighborhoods, the contsant change remain integral to the city’s fabric.

Our interview had a hard stopping point due to the museum’s opening time, but we managed to continue with my first-ever recording session inside a car as Jack was on the move. It was definitely the most unusual interview location I’ve experienced. As we continued our conversation. At one point there was a thriving presence of over 3,000 Jewish delis in the city, and as Jack says now there are maybe only 3 real Jewish Kosher Deli’s left in Manhattan. I definitely prepared for this interview by visiting the 33rd Street location of the deli, and it’s not going to be my last visit for sure. I didn’t grow up on Jewish cuisine like many in the City, but despite that, the comfort and history of that food seeped thru and felt like a warm hug.

Tania Mohammad wearing a herring jar costume, at the I'll Have What She's Having: The Jewish Deli museum exhibition
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Let us know what other iconic Restaurants you miss in the City and what other Reliquary items we should feature.  And don’t forget to tune in every other week, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and spread the word. We have so many more stories to tell.

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