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Mar 7, 2023


Ted Merwin, Ph.D. is a Senior Writer for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Before coming to JFNA, he worked as AIPAC’s Synagogue Initiative Director for the Mid-Atlantic Region. For many years, Ted taught Judaic studies at Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pa), where he was the founding director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life.


Look between the slices of rye bread of a traditional Jewish deli sandwich, and a time capsule of Jewish life in America emerges. The Jewish deli – a uniquely American institution – is the story of migration from Eastern and Central Europe and the struggle between wanting to retain Jewish culture and assimilate into American life. The story of Jewish life begins in the crowded tenements of New York City, migrates to the other boroughs, the nearby suburbs, and eventually throughout the U.S.

Key Discussions

How the Jewish deli in America

√ emerged as an institution unlike what immigrants had experienced in the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

√ evolved as a focal point of Jewish identity and remembrance, as a unifier of different immigrant Jewish cultures, and as a communal gathering place, especially for men.

√ had its roots in the culinary habits of German Jewish immigrants

√ rose in importance during the great depression and the rise of the American Nazi Party, especially in New York City.

√ migrated outside of New York City – to the suburbs, Miami and Los Angeles – in the aftermath of World War II.

√ as an institution declined due to various factors.

Social Media/Referenced


Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli

“I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli at the New York Historical Society (through April 2, 2023)