Corned beef. Kishke. Sliced liver. Kosher dill pickles.
These are a few of the things that come to mind when you think of Jewish delis. But there’s a lot more to learn about them than just your favorite foods, as you’ll discover in the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center’s “I’ll Have What He’s Having” exhibit, which opens Oct. 22 and runs through April 14. , 2024.
The exhibit was organized by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and localized by the Skokie museum.
“We knew it would be culturally exciting for our audience,” said Arielle Weininger, Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions. “But of course, anything we bring to the museum has to have a mission that suits us—talking about the history of the Holocaust, social justice, or civil rights violations.”
They later discovered that a significant portion of the exhibit was about Holocaust survivors who opened Jewish delis in this country, worked in them or gathered there “to create a post-war sense of community,” Weininger said.
The exhibition took place at the New York Historical Society and the Holocaust Museum in Houston. Skirball encouraged organizations presenting at each location to add local history to the exhibit.
“When you look at the deli scene in Chicago and Skokie, it’s very saturated with the history of Holocaust survivors,” Weininger said.
He explained that after the Holocaust, you could not find the foods that were standard in Europe in Jewish delicatessens. At delis founded by survivors in this country, “people can connect with the food of their families and their communities in Europe,” Weininger said.
Over a year and a half, Weininger contacted area businesses to create the local element of the exhibit.
He discovered that Kaufman’s Bagel & Delicatessen in Skokie was opened in 1960 by Holocaust survivor Maury Kaufman, and that most of the bakers working there were survivors. This included the father of the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich.
Bette Dworkin’s family purchased Kaufman’s in 1984; He is now the sole owner.
“He was kind of a mentor to me,” Dworkin said of Maury Kaufman. Dworkin continues the traditions that have kept Kaufman thriving for so many years.
“It’s very similar in terms of what we do,” Dworkin said. “More comprehensive. “I’m trying to find more special products.” He mentioned the wide variety of mustards in the store. Dworkin reported that the most popular items at Kaufman’s are corned beef, salmon and tuna salad, in that order. Gefilte fish and bagels are also customer favorites.
“We have so many homemade products,” Dworkin said. This includes soups and kugels. They smoke their own sturgeon, whitefish, sablefish and turkey.
The business has weathered some tough times, including having to close the store for a year following a fire in 2011, but its customers have remained loyal. Dworkin reported that people continue to ask when they will reopen.
“I remember walking past the fish stand after it reopened and two guys asking, ‘What did we do when they closed?’ “I remember hearing you ask.”
Dworkin donated several items to the Holocaust exhibition, including her late father’s coat, a meat slicer, and an old Sinai 48 clock.
Dworkin concluded that Jewish delicatessens were “an ongoing piece of culture.”
“Another great thing about many of these businesses is that they are family owned and have been around for generations,” Weininger said. “Even if they change hands like Kaufman did with the Dworkin family.”
Other items in the exhibition include a drawing of The Bagel’s late owner, Danny Wolf, taken when he was two years old in his hometown of Czech concentration camp Terezin. His family’s identity cards are also on display.
Visitors will also see cookbooks, advertisements and business cards for Hungarian Kosher Foods, opened by Margit and Sandor Kirsche, Hungarian Auschwitz survivors who met in the United States.
Holocaust survivors Fela and Leon Lesorgen opened Leon’s Deli on Howard and Crawford in Skokie in 1953. It was across the street from East Prairie School, making it a favorite spot for teenagers and teachers at the school.
Although they closed the store in 1981, sisters Regina Corush and Sheila Domash have fond memories of the deli; but only Corush and their brother Seymour Lesorgen enjoyed working there.
“I was at the elementary school across the street,” Domash recalled. “I brought all my friends in and I hated when they saw me behind the counter.”
“I practically lived there,” Corush said. “I was very helpful. “I would give him candy for lunch.” Since the store was open every day, he also helped out separately when one of his parents went on vacation.
Both sisters agree that everyone knows and loves their father. This legacy remained with them. “When we went to our meeting for the closing of East Prairie School, when they gave us IDs, my name was Leon’s Daughter No. was 1; It’s called Leon’s Daughter No. It was 2,” Corush recalled.
Domash believes that the popularity of the place can be attributed to his father’s personality. “He had such a friendship for her,” he explained. “He was an all-around good man.” He discovered that he did a lot of good for people in need.
It wasn’t just Leon’s personality that kept customers coming. Domash reported that during the time the store operated, their mother made chopped liver and tuna twice a week.
Domash said making their stories part of the exhibit would honor his late parents “in a way that would make them happy.”
This is just a small sample of the relevant stories and items displayed in the exhibition. The museum even has a movie chronicling the history of Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen, Kaufman’s Bagel & Delicatessen, and The Bagel.
“I think this will be a fun exhibit for visitors to reminisce about some of the places they used to go and see the new and exciting things that are opening up,” Weininger said. There is a real revival in delicatessens now. “I hope they realize that there is a great and interesting history behind all this.”
“I’ll Have What He’s Having”: Jewish Delicatessen exhibition
When: 10:00-17:00 every day except Tuesday, 22 October – 14 April 2024
Where: Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie
Tickets: $18 adult; $12 seniors; $8 student; $6 for ages 5-11; Free for children under 5
Information: 847-967-4800; ilholocaustmuseum.org
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.