NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ—At the 15th annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival held in the Regal Cinemas on Route 1, attendees enjoyed a special sneak preview of a new film, never before released to the public, along with the opportunity to meet the film director in person.
Billed as a surprise, patrons did not know what film would be shown until just minutes before it began. Perhaps the only hint about the surprise show was a line in the festival’s program, presented by the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, which reads: “A delicious journey into the heart of American Jewish nostalgia.”
“DeliMan: The Movie,” produced and directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou, is a documentary about Jewish culture.
DeliMan is “freshly made,” and represents Greenberg’s third work in his trilogy about Jewish values. His other two films are “The Klezmatics – On Holy Ground,” and “A Cantor’s Tale.”
“It’s probably not easy coming to a screening when you have no idea what’s going on, and one of the reasons why we did this was we had arranged for our premiere to be this week at the Boston Jewish Film Festival,” said Greenberg, speaking after the movie.
“We have a very special relationship with Rutgers and the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival… so we wanted to make sure you guys got to see it before anybody else. We are sorry we couldn’t make the pre-announcement.”
Karen Small, Director of the Rutgers Jewish Film Festival, and Associate Director of the Bildner Center asked Greenberg how he got started with the project, noting that he had gone from football to music to delis.
“It’s a business [operating Jewish Delis] that unfortunately is largely dying. It’s extremely challenged," said Greenberg. "So to find someone who is young enthusiastic, knowledgeable – with a chutzpah – with a passion to keep the business alive… [working] against some very serious demographic and economic odds was the catalyst.”
Greenberg was referring to Ziggy Gruber a third generation delicatessen man, who operates Kenny and Ziggy’s Deli in Houston, Texas. He is the main character and serves as our guide in the film.
After the film, the panel of guests spoke about some current dynamics facing the deli business.
The panel included two brothers from Hobby's Delicatessen and Restaraunt in Newark. This famous deli has been opened for over 5o years and was originally founded by their father.
"What’s the business going to look like in 30 years?" asked Greenberg, saying that he thought people in the deli business would figure it out for themselves. He added that owners would possibly adapt to servicing thier demographic.
Noting new trends in dining, Small asked Greenberg to speak about some issues raised by deli owners in the movie.
“A few years ago we put something called the sizzle wheel – extended trailer online that ended up having about 750,000 hits, so we kept thinking about what is it about this subject matter that is so important or interesting to people.
"People are finding their own ways to remember recipes – to remember family tables. So… the ones [restaurants] that are still resonating with people are the ones that are finding a way to somehow connect with their communities. Systemic communities make new connections and new ways,” said Greenberg.
One of the themes is how few Jewish Delis exist now, compared to previous years.
Greenberg was asked: “What is taking the place of the deli?”
Has Starbuck's now become an alternate, asked Small, noting that the coffee chain really doesn’t have any generational memory to it.
“I mean it’s all philosophizing, but I think we live too fast. We are connected 24-7. We have our devices; we have all these new things that are supposedly making our lives better and easier but in my estimation they are not,” responded Greenberg.
“So I think we hearken back to a time and a place where we were comfortable. Where we were well-fed, where we were taken care of – were happy,” said Greenberg.
“We were warm and I think the deli represents that for many, many people.”