Even if I am very Jewish, do I have to do the Jewish thing too?

August 2012
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Bologna with Mayo on White Bread

By Shayndel Plotkin 2012

An excerpt from:



Some random delicatessen in Brooklyn...

The smells were heavenly. Warm and steaming meat of every flavor and taste. Turkey, salami; hard even, the kind of pastrami with the blackened tips and edges. The fat was trimmed, but not all of it. We were standing in line. The line was out the door and already at the laundromat. The counter was an arms length away and Bubby, mom and I were just about to place our order for lunch.

Now, His attention was on us. Next. He said matter of factly.

Bubby first, always the same, tongue on rye with a half sour pickle. A bissle mustard.

Mom, turkey, thinly sliced, on an open toasted – rye, a half sour pickle and a bissle mustard.

And you young lady, yes. I would like bologna with mayo on white bread. extra mayo, please, and a half sour pickle...


Suddenly, there was a deafening sound, one that I am certain this extablishment in the heart of Avenue J and Ocean Parkway had never experienced. It was a piercing and eerie silence unlike anything you would ever imagine would happen in this area of the world. It went from a busy hum of Yiddish and English conversation to complete and absolute nothing. The once lively Patrons who were animatedly discussing local politics, Israel, corned beef and the horses were now deadly quiet.

Even the man behind the counter appeared to be holding his breath.

I saw eyes peering at me from every direction. Even in the kitchen a few people walked out to have a look. Who was it? I heard someone ask. Vas Muchsta? What is the matter?

Bubby looked at me. I looked at her. It was a look I had never seen before. I mean Bubby and I were so close. I new her every look. Pride in her grand- daughter, joy in her family and grief from her almost forgotten past. Mostly, it was the latter. As she went about her day saying tehillim and cooking some chicken or borscht on the stove, those were her looks.

Now, mom, her mouth was open. Her cheeks red as the indelible lipstick she wore and kissed me with. I was afraid to look up at fear that the entire population of my brothers and sisters - my lansmen, for lack of a more updated, trendy word for the Jewish people that resided between Avenue J and Avenue X on this side of the parkway, would all be open mouthed and staring at me with haunting and confused eyes.

I slowly turned and my fears were immediately confirmed. “Oh dear God - Someone speak please. I mean What the hell is wrong with ordering some bologna I mean it is here in the counter. Right?

So, I get it, mayo may not exactly be the choice condiment of the clientele of this particular establishment. But come on. I am still a Jew. Yes I am Shayndel Bas Chana Rachel is still very, very Jewish.

So Jewish in fact that I can still remember the four kashas and half of my Bat Mitzvah Parsha.

So why, why I ask you should I be so mortified and care about how these Jews think of me.

In fact, I am proud of my selection of sliced bologna and mayo on white bread. What was it that annoyed them all so much anyway, was it the bologna? Was it the mayo? No, most likely it was the white bread?

I mean I got the half sour pickle right didn’t I?

I mean, can’t a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn order a sandwich in a kosher deli without feeling like she was some awful person who rejected all of her roots and her deeply Jewish upbringing. Why am I, Shayndel, all of a sudden being transported back to the level of guilt, horror and heartache of those who perished in the holocaust? Why do I feel like someone is about to hand me the book “Night,” by Ellie Weisel or better yet, a Bible?

So, time stood still. By now I realized it was me who would have to make the next move. I looked right at the guy behind the counter. In fact, I realized at this point, how large he was. He was large and tall and his apron, once white, was rather reddish in color and stained with a variety of ethnic flavors. I was sure that he had spent a long, long time behind a delicatessen such as this one, if not infact, this very one.

I took a deep, long, hard breath and I said once again... I’ll have the ... (swallow), I will have the ... (breathe... breathe...) I would like please ...

Oh jeez, just give me the pastrami on rye, a half sour pickle and a bissle of mustard.

(Background hum of talking and business.)

Ahhhh! All is right in the world. And by “The World”, I mean Brooklyn, of course.




The silence was


from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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