Photos by Larry Hauptman
Shaar Hashomayim in Windsor draws men for a kosher deli feast.
I just got back from traveling abroad. Well, actually, I just went to Windsor for a corned beef sandwich. I didn’t experience jet lag, but I’m sure my cholesterol is elevated.
On Sept. 6, I was in Windsor in the social hall of Shaar Hashomayim Congregation to experience “The Man’s Lunch #3,” a gathering of friends who love to fress and pay homage to the history of the kosher deli, whose numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate.
For the last three years, “The Man’s Lunch” has included all-you-can-eat, steaming hot, mouth-watering corned beef (plus pastrami and salami), along with celebrity deli guest speakers. This year, Zane Caplansky of Caplansky’s Delicatessen of Toronto addressed the crowd. Zane was featured in the highly acclaimed 2014 documentary Deli Man.
Each of the 21 tables in the hall were outfitted with placemats representing famous delicatessens. Marty’s Pickles, representing four generations of pickle makers, provided a bottomless giant bowl of the specially brined crunchy cukes that are grown, cured and hand-packed in Ontario.
I went with several other “Americans” to this mecca of meat, among them my brother-in-law Chuck Newman of Ann Arbor. He looks for fun food destinations and invites friends and family along on the journey. These quests were born out of an upbringing that had limited exposure to Jewish delicacies.
“I grew up in Wayne, Mich.,” Chuck says. “I ate bologna sandwiches on Silver Cup white bread, thank goodness with mustard not mayo; but once I tasted corned beef, I was hooked.”
The Man’s Lunch, he said, was his “version of winning a chance to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.”
Fress And More
The event is the brainchild of Windsor businessman Bill Mechanic, who is working tirelessly to keep the doors open to the nearly century-old historic Shaar Hashomayim — a beautiful gem of Jewish architecture.
Though advertised as an afternoon for “men who want to fress, kibitz and kvetch,” it’s also a creative way Bill and a legion of dedicated volunteers hope to encourage attendees to help feed the coffers of the synagogue. You might say it’s a subtle “corned beef for a cause.”
Bill’s great-grandfather, Morris Gitlin, was the first acting rabbi in Windsor and his Zayde Bill and his brother Abraham were among the founding fathers of Shaar Hashomayim. Bill, vice president of the shul, follows in his father Dave’s footsteps as a dedicated and giving congregant.
At the luncheon, I broke bread (rye) with Stan Meretsky of West Bloomfield, who talked about how Shaar Hashomayim also pulls at his heartstrings. “My great-grandfather Jacob arrived in Windsor in the early 1880s, and many of my family members were lifelong members,” said Stan, whose Windsor cousins were also among the 160-plus luncheon guests.
Sponsorships of tables helped defray the cost of the luncheon while a flyer listed the cost to attend as “semi-gornisht.” Nowhere is the luncheon advertised as a fundraiser, but guests are respectfully asked to “put some gelt in the pickle jars” located on every table. The dill-nations raised over the last three years have helped renovate the shul’s Hebrew school and repair the ceiling in the main sanctuary.
Make no mistake that to Bill the luncheon is first and foremost a way to keep the dwindling Windsor Jewish community connected. He wants no part of a heavy-handed plea for donations, despite the reality that it will take much more than cash-filled pickle jars to keep this jewel of Judaism alive.
“We need help from Detroit to Toronto,” said Bill, his passion palpable. During a private tour of the synagogue, his eyes welled up when he passed the pew his family has been sitting in for generations.
The final stat sheet on the day’s event was impressive. Briskets from Hamilton Kosher in Hamilton, Ontario, produced 174 pounds of corned beef and pastrami; brined for a month prior to the event. Twenty-seven pounds of beef salami were basted in a special sauce.
It took 3½ hours by an all-star line-up of deli slicers to hand slice the corned beef, pastrami and salami. Bill told me these experts know the difference between cutting the bad fat off and leaving the good fat on. A slicing proficiency second only to that of a good mohel.
And despite what you’ve been hearing about the recent fragile trade relations between the U.S. and Canada, a major international business transaction resulted during the Man’s Lunch. Steve Katz, owner of the Detroit area Bake Stations, informed me that his Southfield location supplied all the rye bread, kichel and (drumroll) seven-layer cake! Yes, there was seven-layer cake! That alone was worthy of running for the border. Speaking of which …
Bill generously offered the Detroit contingent leftovers to take back to the States, which we respectfully declined. The Purple Gang may have gotten away with bootlegging booze from Windsor across the Detroit River back in the 1920s, but there’s no way in this day of heightened security that a group of middle-aged Jewish guys were willing to get busted for brisket. More incentive to return for The Man Lunch #4.
To learn more about Shaar Hashomayim or to donate, call (519) 256-3123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.