Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Pt. 2

Posted on April 5th, 2017 by

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part II: The Old Neighborhood

Miss part 1? Start here.

Color slide of ”Lexington Market” by Ruth Bear Levy. JMM 1999.12.13

Color slide of ”Lexington Market” by Ruth Bear Levy. JMM 1999.12.13

In Baltimore, Jewish immigrants settled in the small brick rowhouses of East Baltimore, a neighborhood bounded more or less by the Jones Falls and Patterson Park on the west and east, Orleans Street on the north and Eastern Avenue on the south. There were also immigrant neighborhoods in West Baltimore and South Baltimore; other Jewish families were scattered throughout the city, often living about their small grocery, liquor, jewelry, and clothing stores. By the 1920s, Eastern European Jews were migrating to the northwestern part of Baltimore in significant numbers and within forty years few stiff resided downtown, although they may have worked or shopped there.

The nucleus of the old East Baltimore neighborhood was along Baltimore and Lombard Streets, west of Central Avenue, where synagogues, shops, community institutions, and the densest Jewish population were concentrated. Lombard Street was a bustling marketplace. Along its length stores catering to both Jewish and Gentile trade sold clothing, shoes, and sundries, as well as foodstuffs in teeming variety. Besides a mingling of Italian groceries toward the Jones Falls, virtually every store was owned by an immigrant Jewish family. Baltimore Street had a more residential character, but many of the homes had ground-level shop fronts, especially on the corners.

Groceries, bakeries, butchers, confectioners, and dairies sprang up in the neighborhood to supply the immigrant community, preparing, importing, and selling traditional foods, just as in other ethnic communities. Some of the groceries may have called themselves delicatessens, but it was not until 1905 that there was a sufficient number to require a separate business category in the Baltimore City Directory under that heading.[1]

Five delicatessens were listed in that year, three of them on East Baltimore Street between Front and Exeter Streets. Harry Caplan’s delicatessen was at 915 East Baltimore Street, Frank Hurwitz’s two doors away at number 919, and Harry Goodman’s in the next block at 825 East Baltimore Street. Solomon Goldberg was around the corner at 537 Asquith Street. Isaac Baer’s shop at 1802 Division Street was the only delicatessen listed outside of East Baltimore. In preceding years Solomon Goldberg had been listed as a butcher, Harry Goodman as a grocery and under “meats,” and Frank Hurwitz as a butcher and a grocer.

Continue to Part III: Caplan’s Delicatessen


[1] Baltimore City Directory, R.L. Polk and Company, 1905.

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Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side: The Jewish Delicatessen in Baltimore Part 1

Posted on April 3rd, 2017 by

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part I: Delicatessen Means Delicacies

 Faye Hershcovitz Zeller and friend behind the counter at Zeller’s Meat Market and Deli. JMM 2006.4.103

Faye Hershcovitz Zeller and friend behind the counter at Zeller’s Meat Market and Deli. JMM 2006.4.103

The story of the American Jewish delicatessen cuts a revealing slice through the world of Jewish food and its regional and personal variations. The history of what Jews eat is a study of the many cultural forces in Jewish life: assimilation and tradition, secularization and religious observance, identity and commercialization.

In America, a unique form has emerged: the delicatessen, an ethnic grocery or restaurant – or a combination of both. In the atmosphere and foods of the delicatessen American Jews enjoy and present their culture as a flourishing folk life, transformed from traditional European roots into a richly textured secular ethnicity. The history of Baltimore’s delicatessens, the families and employees who made them, and the foods they served, trace a path through the Jewish presence in Baltimore from the turn of the century to the present.

Delicatessen” means delicacies in German, and Webster’s defines the word as “prepared cooked meats, smoked fish, cheeses, salads, relishes, etc.,” or “a shop where such foods are sold.” Jewish delicatessens began as fancy grocery shops, specializing in importing and preparing foods familiar to recent immigrants, and slowly developed into the range of establishments we know today.

The varieties of food which today are considered to be Jewish delicatessen came to America with the Eastern European immigrants who flocked to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From across the Pale of Settlement, ranging from the Baltic coast in the north to Odessa in the south, these immigrants mixed in the Jewish neighborhoods of American Cities, bringing their native foodstuffs.

The Pale of Settlement, image via.

The Pale of Settlement, image via.

Poor Europeans, both Jewish and Gentile, depended upon meat, fish, and vegetables preserved by smoking, pickling, or salting. To create kosher equivalents of some of the pork-based products eaten by their neighbors, Jews used cuts of beef, especially the easily koshered [made fit] brisket. Corned beef pickled in brine was favored in the northern and central regions, peppery pastrami in the south. Sausages ranged from hard and soft salamis and bolognas to the frankfurter, which originated in Germany. Smoked fish such as whitefish and lox (salmon) were specialties of the Baltic coastal regions and were exported all over Eastern Europe, but they were expensive delicacies eaten only by the wealthy or on infrequent special occasions. Poor Jews ate herring, a much more abundant fish: schmaltz herring, the cheapest and easiest to obtain, and matjes herring, from Holland.[1]

Many delicatessen foods, now eaten year-round, were originally associated with specific life-cycle events, holy days, or special occasions. For example, bagels, which appeared in Poland as early as the 1500s, were favored for bris [ceremonial circumcision] celebrations.

Traditional Jewish foods metamorphosed in America under the pressure of new social realities. New foodstuffs became available; most immigrants relaxed their observance of kosher laws and, as they prospered, could afford more frequent indulgence in luxury foods.[2] All of these forces were at work in the creation of the bagel spread with cream cheese and lox, a prototypical American Jewish edible which would have been unthinkable in Europe. Under the strict interpretation of some Eastern Eurpean rabbis, although fish was technically pareve [neither meat nor dairy], it was not to be eaten in combination with a dairy product such as cream cheese. Cream cheese itself was a new food immigrants encountered in America for the first time, and largely replaced the looser, saltier, farmer’s cheese they had eaten in Europe. Lox, while still expensive, was much cheaper in America with its greater supply of salmon, coming within reach of the average family.

Continue to Part II: The Old Neighborhood


[1] Robert Sternberg, Yiddish Cuisine: A Gourmet’s Approach (Northvale, N.J: Jason Aaronson, October 1993].

[2] Andrew R. Heinze, Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrants, Mass Consumption, and the Search for American Identity [New York: Columbia University Press, 1990].

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Generations 2007-2008: Bridges to Zion: Maryland and Israel

Posted on November 9th, 2016 by

Generations 2007-2008: Bridges to Zion: Maryland and Israel

Table of Contents

Introduction by Avi Y. Decter and Deborah R. Weiner – download as pdf

An American in Palestine: Mendes I. Cohen Tours the Holy Land by Deborah R. Weiner – download as pdf

The American Delegate(s)* at the First Zionist Conference by Avi Y. Decter – download as pdf

Revolutionizing Experiences: Henrietta Szold’s First Visit to the Holy Land by Henrietta Szold – download as pdf

Why I was a Zionist and Why I Now Am Not by Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron

“Israel” by Karl Schapiro

Mahal Days by Raphael Ben-Yosef

Photo Gallery: Maryland Philanthropy and Israel by Rachel Kassman

The Blaustein-Ben-Gurion Agreement: A Milestone in Israel-Diaspora Relations by Mark K. Bauman

The Comeback Kid: Leon Uris Returns to City College, 1995 by Rona Hirsch

“Who is a Jew” by Shoshana S. Cardin

Book Review: A Dream of Zion: American Jews Reflect on Why Israel Matters to Them by Melvin I. Urofsky

Field Notes: The Jewish Journey: The Jewish Museum in New York by Fred Wasserman

Chronology: Maryland and Israel

Cost: $10

To order a print copy of Generations 2007-2008, please contact Esther’s Place, the JMM Museum Shop at 443-873-5179 or email Devan Southerland, Museum Shop Assistant at

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