Jewish delis aren’t just restaurants; they’ve grown to embody community spirit and have significantly shaped American food culture. That’s the guiding principle behind the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s upcoming exhibition, “I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli, which explores the history of how Jewish delicatessens became cultural hubs for Jewish immigrants and provided a way for Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives in the United States.
On view Oct. 22-April 14, the exhibition is organized into thematic sections, each highlighting the stories of local Holocaust survivors and their ties with delis in the Chicagoland area. Paraphernalia on display includes a neon sign, a meat slicer, and a jacket from Kaufman’s Bagel & Delicatessen, which was started by survivor Maury Kaufman and which acted as a gathering spot for survivors for several years; items owned by the late Danny Wolf, who owned The Bagel; and memorabilia from Nate’s Delicatessen, S.Rosen’s, and Hungarian Kosher Foods, together weaving an integrated story of Jewish life interlaced with the rise of delis as social and cultural centers.
A butcher is surrounded by salamis at Romanian Kosher Sausage Co. Chicago in 2022.
Why is the exhibit a must-see? Says Arielle Weininger, the museum’s chief curator of collections and exhibitions, “Because it’s fun—people love delis. They love the food, they love the memories, and it reminds them of family and friends. Every visitor will be reminded of something they know, but learn so much more about the history of these businesses.”
Corned beef sandwich at Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen in Skokie
Rounding out the exhibition is a film created by the Museum that shares the history and impact of several of these destinations. "The film clips in the show are fantastic," says Weininger, “from silent footage of children running down Hester Street on the Lower East Side in 1905 to Larry David arguing with Ted Danson about switching names for their deli sandwiches. Chicagoland features prominently; I have added so many stories from survivor’s delis and restaurants—plus The Blues Brothers, as Aretha Franklin sang “Think” in Nate’s Kosher Deli. There is something enjoyable in this show for everyone, at every age.”