Jami Attenberg Phones Home

A Chat With Her Dad Shed Light on 'The Middlesteins'

Deli Magic: Jami Attenberg asked her father about the magic of the delicatessen, and wound up finding out some things about his past, and her’s.
Michael Sharkey
Deli Magic: Jami Attenberg asked her father about the magic of the delicatessen, and wound up finding out some things about his past, and her’s.

By Jami Attenberg

Published October 23, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
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Did people come over and look at the furniture in the house?

(Laughs.) Yeah, they did. Exactly.

So, this interview is about food?

Well, I’ll tell you what I know. My introduction to deli — and, by the way, I have probably not had a corned beef sandwich in probably 10 years. First of all, your mother doesn’t eat any meat, and second of all, that’s not something I do anymore. But in Chelsea, I was going to Hebrew school — it was a one-room Hebrew school with a teacher who, if you made the wrong move, she took a ruler and slammed you with it. We would all gather at about four o’clock to attend Hebrew school in this one classroom. Of course, we were all hungry at that point, because we had just gotten out of grade school, right? So we would go to the local neighborhood deli, and at that deli they sold the ends of salamis. It was called “A nickel a schticle” — you bought the ends of the salamis for a nickel. And that was called the schticle.

How do you spell “schticle”?

I’m only guessing at s-c-h-t-i-c-l-e. (Laughs.) It’s kind of like testicle.

Got it.

So a nickel a schticle, that became our afternoon snack. And the other thing was, while we were in there [the deli], they had the greatest French fries in the world. Everybody would buy French fries and bring them back to Hebrew school. Now in Hebrew school, the desks were the ones where the tops lifted up? So, they’d stick their French fries in there, with the idea that they were going to hide it from the teacher. Of course, when you walked into the room, the aroma was overwhelming. And then we all kind of snuck the French fries into our mouths.

So then you moved to Highland Park , Ill,, when you were 14.

Yes.

Why did you move there?

Because my father, your grandfather, worked for the people who owned Macy’s and Gimbel’s. He worked for them in Boston, and they said, “Would you like to move to Chicago?” So we moved to Chicago. We got on the wagon train and went.

And was there a Jewish community waiting for you in Highland Park?

Yes, Temple Beth-El. A fabulous temple.


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