It was a celebration of the traditional deli when more than 100 members of Windsor Ont.’s local Jewish community, many who hadn’t seen each other in years, gathered for an old-school “Man’s Lunch” to “fress, kibbitz and kvetch” over steaming hot kosher corned beef and pastrami.
The lunch, held Jan. 18 in Shaar Hashomayim Congregation’s social hall, was an effort not just to strengthen the bonds of the city’s Jewish community, but to raise money to rehabilitate its Hebrew school, which hasn’t been refurbished since it opened in 1963.
Accordingly, a silent auction was held to bid on large-scale, ready-for-framing replicas of menus from some of North America’s most iconic Jewish delicatessens, from New York’s Carnegie to Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in Miami Beach to Schwartz’s in Montreal. A copy of New York’s Second Avenue Deli Cookbook was also up for bids.
‘My grandfather – my zaide – he was a fresser. My dad he was a fresser. I’m a fresser’
Being screened in the background was the 2015 film Deli Man by director Erik Anjou, which lovingly documented the decline of the traditional Jewish deli and efforts to revitalize it.
“There are fewer and fewer kosher delis,” said Bill Mechanic, a local businessman and organizer of the lunch, which he paid for entirely out of his own pocket and hopes to make into a twice-a-year event. “It’s part of our fabric as Jews. It’s what we eat and it’s disappearing.”
Mechanic played up the male club aspect of the event. “My grandfather – my zaide – he was a fresser. My dad he was a fresser. I’m a fresser.”
Later, he jokingly told the gathering that the reason the event was advertised for men only was because “if we let the women in here, they wouldn’t let us eat this stuff.”
Considerable organizing went into planning the kosher feast. Mechanic said 82 pounds of brisket was ordered from Hamilton Kosher in Hamilton.
“They gave us all the instructions. Every single thing we had to do the guys in Hamilton walked us through it,” Mechanic said. He also secured “beautiful rye breads” from The Bake Station in Southfield, Mich., a kosher bakery across the river in suburban Detroit.
Cole slaw, pickles, and desserts – including seven-layer cake and kichel –rounded out the meal.
A slicer was set up in the shul’s kitchen, and well-known city lawyer Sam Mossman, the “maven,” did the honours of cutting the meat, arriving a few hours ahead of time on the mid-week morning.
Mossman is the son of Dave Mossman, who ran Windsor’s iconic Mossman’s Delicatessen, which operated between 1948 and 1979. He was wearing a Mossman’s Delicatessen T-shirt, as were other volunteer staff, which were specially made for the lunch.
“It was an integral part of our family,” Mossman said of the deli. “We even had our own dill pickle factory in our garage.”
In fact, someone recently gave Sam the deli’s original slicer, dating to the 1930s.
“It’s all seized up, missing parts, completely useless, but I couldn’t not have it,” he said.
He joked that he was considered part of the city’s “deli royalty.”
Mossman also said he, like many others attending, hadn’t been in the synagogue, where he went to Hebrew school, in “many, many” years.
“And it’s a wonderful thing to bring the community back together,” he said. “Because, you know, we live our separate lives. And the more secular we become, even the High Holidays don’t necessarily bring everyone together anymore.”