Zabar's maven Klein helped push Jewish food to gourmet heights

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It may not offer only kosher fare, but Zabar's delicatessen in New York City's Upper West Side played a significant role in recent decades in lifting the image of traditional Jewish food from the ordinary to the gourmet.


The reason we're thinking about this now is because of the recent death of Murray Klein (z"l), a part-owner of Zabar's, and the man most visible to the public in that store, now a New York institution.

In the days following his December 6 death at 84, the praise for Klein came pouring in from foodies worldwide.

Zabar's was in part responsible for creating the notion that Jewish foods can also be gourmet, the trade newsletter Kosher Today said.

“That one little Yiddishe store had an effect on the way people ate all over America, and it was really because of him,” Steven Fass, an importer, told the New York Times.

Klein was born in a Jewish town in the Soviet Union near the Romanian border. His parents and five siblings all died in Nazi concentration camps, and he ended up in a Soviet labor camp. Klein spent time in a displaced persons camp in Italy before making it to the United States. He even worked in Europe for the Irgun, a Jewish guerrilla movement that helped smuggle arms to pre-state Palestine.

He joined Zabar’s as a stockman and worked with - and occasionally against - the Zabar family for the next 40 years, winding up as a co-owner of the store when he retired in 1994.

So, now, when you see upper-scale gourmet kosher restaurants such as Levana in New York or A Cow Jumped Over The Moon in Beverly Hills, as well as the gourmet kosher items here on, you can thank Murray Klein and the mavens at Zabar's.