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Where Harry Met Sally: The Cuisine and Culture of the New York Jewish Deli

Weekend Program with Lunch

Sunday, July 30, 2017 - 12:00 p.m.
Code: 1L0163

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For much of the 20th century, the New York Jewish deli was an iconic institution in both Jewish and American life, a kind of homeland for the soul—with pickles on the side. As a social space it rivaled, and in some ways surpassed, the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. Today, after a long period of being considered hopelessly old-fashioned, the deli is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence.

Ted Merwin, associate professor of religion and Judaic studies and director of the Asbell Center for Jewish Life at Dickinson College, discusses the past, present, and future of the deli in an age of ethnic nostalgia, sustainability, and artisanal food and drink. He traces the Jewish deli from its origins in Germany and Eastern Europe to its development in this country into a quintessential part of urban Jewish life.

After lunch provided by DGS Delicatessen, learn how the deli became part of American popular entertainment in plays, films, TV shows, songs, and stand-up routines. From songs by Yiddish musical stars to John Belushi’s "Samurai Deli" skits to Rob Reiner's classic film When Harry Met Sally, the deli and its fare were embraced as a delicious emblem of Jewish culture in America.

Other Connections

Neither bagels nor lox originated in New York City. But the now-classic combo that’s a cornerstone of the delicatessen menu did. Journalist Heather Smith serves up a fascinating history of these two essential deli staples.

The end of 2016 also saw the end of the 80-year old Carnegie Deli in Times Square. But its memory lives on in this recipe for their celebrated cheesecake.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)