KI Deli Drew a Crowd

You might have thought it was Yom Kippur at Keneseth Israel (KI), based on the hundreds of people trying to fit into the synagogue. But the long lines weren’t to get a good seat to hear Rabbi Michael Wolk’s Kol Nidre sermon – they were there to buy kosher pastrami on rye. KI had to turn away people after selling out of a few hundred pounds of kosher deli meat in only a couple of hours at their January 10 deli fundraiser.

KI member Mark Suna joined with his old restaurant partner, Les Naiman, in resurrecting their former landmark deli restaurant, Les & Mark’s Nosh Box, for the event. Their deli was in Hikes Point in the latter half of the 1970’s.

Naiman and Suna split after a few years, unable to balance what Suna calls their “Odd Couple” qualities. Naiman continued in the food business, deli and catering business while Suna went into commercial real estate. The men eventually renewed their friendship.

They also renewed their delicious recipes for corned beef, pastrami, salami, coleslaw, potato salad and more, all to benefit KI. Suna and his wife, Kelly, donated almost all the food for this event so that KI could increase their fundraising revenue. Suna commented that he did it to help Keneseth Israel become as successful as it can be, and to give back to the community that allowed him to be so prosperous.

The event brought together the entire Jewish (and non-Jewish!) community, which we know food often does. There were members there from every synagogue and all walks of life.
Indeed, this was the focus of author Ted Merwin’s lecture at the event – he was on hand to discuss his new book, Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli.

Merwin explained that as a social space, the Jewish deli used to rival – and in some ways surpassed – the synagogue as the primary gathering place for the Jewish community. He explained that upwardly mobile American Jews discarded the deli as they transitioned from outsider to insider status in the middle of the century.

Now contemporary Jews are returning the deli to cult status as they seek to reclaim their cultural identities. His thesis was certainly confirmed, considering the throngs of people packed into the KI pop-up deli.

The overwhelming outpouring of support for this deli fundraiser was so great that Keneseth Israel intends to hold several such deli events per year. 

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