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I’ll Have What She’s Having - The food centric exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center

A Retrospective – By Elijah Douresseau

The food-centric exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center – I’ll Have What She Is Having: The

Jewish Deli, has come and gone. The walkthrough experience was on display for Angelenos and

tourists from mid-April to September 18th and told the story of a people who came to the

country and started a food movement that birthed a hyphenated ethnic group – fleeing war and

persecution to pursue freedom and opportunity.

Even some weeks after visiting, I’m still savoring the various infographics, props and general

crash course in delicatessen business practices the exhibit presented. I’m a native of Los

Angeles, but it was not until my adulthood that I appreciated the number of Jewish-style delis in

the sprawling landscape of the city.

As food-rich as the various regions of LA are, it can be hard to find monuments that stand the

test of time. Especially restaurants. I’m talking decades upon decades. The food culture does

acknowledge family businesses that have stood the test of time, even in their changing of hands

and managerial revamps. But delis have a special presence to them that keeps them stuck in time – though operators still need to do a few things to maintain their businesses in modern climates.

Of course, I was craving some kind of tall, meat staircase of a sandwich after finishing up at the

Skirball. The dining facilities at the Cultural Center did their best to accentuate their

programming by providing approximations of menu selections at a full-fledged deli, but I was

going to hate myself for paying almost $20 for a sandwich that only acted like a deli sandwich

entree. But I’m glad I entered the café space.

Extending the miniature education of the exhibit were portrait photographs of deli personnel in

2022. These were some of the souls of various genders, races, and walks of life who worked at

notable delis in the city. True to LA’s multifaceted and intersectional nature, the Jewish deli was

the vocational home to employees who were not Jewish but had a zeal for serving up the

historically ethnic food with a keen eye for integrity.

The photos still bring a smile to my face. They give me some hope that we will be alright in this

crazy world of ours. People will always need to work to survive, to provide for their families.

That has been a universal truth for a staggering amount of time. This often requires individuals,

generations even, to learn from their neighbors and functionally live in a new culture of values.

In LA fashion, the result can be a fascinating hybrid of cultural exchanges and encounters that

gives us more of a compassionate heart toward the fellow humans we’re living amongst.

Here's hoping the exhibit did well enough to travel around the country and make a firm case to

return to the Cultural Center in some years. I appreciated the food history, but it seems I am

enamored with a story of pilgrimage and identity that so many of us can likely identify with.

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