Pastrami on Rye: The History of Jewish Delis

Dickinson College

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. He is the author of Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli, which won a National Jewish Book Award, and In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture. In addition, his articles on Jewish culture have appeared in The New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Washington Post, Newsweek, Hadassah and many other newspapers and magazines.


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 the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. Today, after decades of decline, the deli is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence. In addition, delis are featured in a plethora of plays, films, TV shows, songs and stand-up routines. From John Belushi’s “Samurai Deli” skit on SNL to Rob Reiner’s 1989 romantic comedy, “When Harry Met Sally,” the deli and its fare have been embraced by Jews and non-Jews alike as a delicious emblem of Jewish culture in America. Join Ted Merwin, author of Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli, for a delicious exploration of this favorite food genre.



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Jeanne Adams

Very interesting. Made me better understand why we always had Chinese food every Sunday growing up!

3 months ago
Martin Choo

Lunch Time

Solid presentation. I’ve read similar writings on the history of Deli’s in North America and this content is inline with those similar experiences.

3 weeks ago
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