On March 4th, 1996, New York lost an icon. Abe Lebewohl, beloved owner of the Second Avenue Deli, was murdered while taking the morning deposit to the bank. Twenty years later his killers have not been apprehended.
Abe was a remarkable businessman and community leader. At his funeral there were hundreds of mourners who counted Abe among their closest friends. I have never known anyone before or since with his capacity to love, give and share with so many people.
The stories of Abe’s boundless energy, humor and generosity are legendary.
Abe treated celebrities like regular people and regular customers like celebrities. He would rush around the restaurant handing out samples of his newest creations with such enthusiasm that you had to buy whatever he had created. Abe taught me to put a matzoh ball in my mushroom barley soup. A stroke of genius.
Abe and his lovely wife Eleanor took a fish cooking class from me at The New School back in the 1970’s. After one lesson another student in his group came up to me to complain that one person in the group was cutting up all the vegetables so quickly that no one else could chop anything. That was Abe. After I spoke with him he slowed down, but not by much.
Over the succeeding decades we became dear friends – visiting food stores and new restaurants and sharing dinners with large groups of friends in the food business at which Abe would hold court. After he died we tried to continue the dinners but we just didn’t have our leader. Dinners weren’t fun without Abe. He was our Kosher father.
Four days after he was killed we shuttered our store on Third Avenue and moved the business downtown. Those were our darkest days.
Abe would love what is happening with food around the city. He would be amazed at the quality, diversity and energy in the food scene today. Abe loved to see new ideas and encourage young people to start businesses.
So in the month of March, as I remember Abe, I am going to order a mushroom barley soup. And add a matzoh ball.
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