Lectures by Ted Merwin

The Siegal Lifelong Learning Program will host two in-person lectures with visiting scholar Ted Merwin, author and senior writer for the Jewish Federations of North America.

“Where Harry Met Sally: The Delectable History of the Jewish Deli”

Wednesday, May 8

7 to 8 p.m.

First, Merwin will present “Where Harry Met Sally: The Delectable History of the Jewish Deli.”

For much of the 20th century, the corner 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. At the same time the deli became an icon in popular culture, featured in a plethora of plays, films, TV shows, songs and stand-up routines. 

From John Belushi’s Samurai Deli skit on Saturday Night Live to Rob Reiner’s late-1980s romcom, When Harry Met Sally, to the scenes in the Stage Deli in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the deli and its fare have been embraced by Jews and non-Jews alike as a delicious emblem of Jewish culture in America. 

But does the deli have a future in an age of health-consciousness, gourmet food trends, and fusion cuisine? And what, if anything, has taken the place of the deli as a “secular synagogue” for Jews to get together in a non-religious space?

Register for Merwin’s May 8 lecture.

“Movin’ On Up: Jews and Upward Mobility in Popular Entertainment”

Thursday, May 9

10 a.m.

Merwin’s second lecture will be titled “Movin’ On Up: Jews and Upward Mobility in Popular Entertainment.”

Long before Tevye sings about the kind of ostentatious house he wishes his family could inhabit in Fiddler on the Roof, the complicated Jewish relationship with our homes has been key to understanding depictions of Jews in American pop culture. From Lower East Side tenements to uptown luxury apartment buildings to Catskills hotels to suburban McMansions, the locations of Jewish settlement and the dwellings that Jews have occupied have been a major theme in American humor. 

This talk will look at representations of Jewish residences in vaudeville, stand-up comedy, and sitcoms (including Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) to trace how increasing affluence among Jews has been satirized in ways that reveal underappreciated aspects of the American Jewish domestic experience. Register to attend Merwin’s May 9 lecture.