Great Neck Public Schools (GNPS) Community Education is excited to welcome Dr. Ted Merwin back to his roots on Thursday, May 26, to speak about his latest book, Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli. Merwin attributes much of what he writes about to his family and upbringing.
Born and raised in Great Neck Estates, Merwin attended the Kensington-Johnson School. He recalled growing up in a secular family, where Judaism played a very small part in his life. Not attending temple or Hebrew school, Merwin said that his only connection to Judaism was through food, influenced primarily by his grandparents. According to Merwin, his grandparents ate familiar cultural food to provide comfort in otherwise uncomfortable surroundings. Their deli of choice was the Squire Delicatessen on Middle Neck Road, across from Kensington Gate.
Merwin attended Great Neck South Senior High School where, to earn some extra money, he wrote a column called “Southern Exposure” for the Great Neck Record. After graduating in 1986, Merwin attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and pursued an undergraduate degree in American studies. He later completed his doctoral degree in theater from the City University of New York Graduate School.
The idea for Pastrami on Rye came from his interest in the pop culture representations and depictions of Jewish life, and the realization that the many well-known scenes, skits and songs about the Jewish community took place, in fact, in the deli. These delis provided immigrant Jews with a taste of home, nostalgia for the old country, and a satisfying and nurturing environment in which to be comfortable.
Currently, Merwin is an associate professor of religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College
in Pennsylvania, where he is founding director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life. He writes about Jewish theater, dance and food for the New York Jewish Week and other major news-papers and magazines.
Join GNPS Community Education for this informative and tasty event at 1 p.m. at 30 Cumberland Ave. Come and sample a bit of this delicious book with a little nosh on the side. The cost for the lecture and light refreshments is $25, or $45 for the lecture, light refreshments and the book that he’ll sign.
Samantha Tarantola is the director of GNPS Community Education.