Abe Lebewohl always knew what work meant. His first experience was in Eastern Europe doing hard labor during WWII, and then after being miraculously reunited with his family in a displaced persons camp in Italy, he moved to New York with his mother, father and little brother. He then got a job working the soda fountain in a Coney Island deli, while also volunteering to do as much as possible to learn other aspects of the food industry. He graduated to other delis, absorbing the nuances of Jewish cuisine and eventually scraping together enough money to open his own. The grand day happened in 1954, on the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, and, thus, The 2nd Avenue Deli began. It was tiny to begin with, serving only ten people at a time, but eventually grew to become one of New York’s most popular kosher delis, in the heart of what was then considered to be the old Yiddish theater district (the Yiddish Walk of Fame honors luminaries from this fascinating era). At this point, “it wasn’t Abe’s business, it was really his life, ” according to his nephew Jeremy. This is where the rags-to-riches story halts. Tragically, in 1996, Abe was murdered while carrying his day's deposit to the bank. Jack, his younger brother by seventeen years, took over the business he had grown up in and kept it running for ten more years before disputes with the landlords caused him to shut it down in 2005. Two years later, Jack’s sons, Josh and Jeremy, decided to continue the family tradition and reopened in their present location on 33rd Street.
Originally known as the Manhattan Opera House, 311 West has had an interesting history. Oscar Hammerstein built the theater in 1906, but after a few short years, the Metropolitan Opera House came to him requesting that he not compete with them, and made him an offer that he could not refuse. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hammerstein sold the building to the Shubert brothers where they continued to feature a variety of shows and concerts. In 1922, it was sold again, and this time a Grand Ballroom was added. Unbeknownst to the builders, they had created an outstanding acoustic setup where musicians from Harry Belafonte to the Grateful Dead have performed and recorded. Over the past twenty plus years, construction has been on-going as more multimedia studios have been added and a refurbishing done to the Hammerstein Ballroom to accommodate large private events.
With construction starting in 1958 and finishing ten years later, Saint Vartan Cathedral represents the first Armenian Apostolic cathedral built in North America. Named after a saint who was martyred a millennium and a half ago defending Armenian Christianity, Saint Vartan Cathedral had a memorable beginning. During its construction and immediately following its completion, the building was visited by the highest authority within the Church, His Holiness Vasken I, marking the first such visit by a Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians in the United States. For a people so persecuted throughout history, and especially by the recent Armenian genocide, the building and consecration of this holy house was a monumental event in the community. His Holiness Vasken I, looking out at an assembled audience soon after Saint Vartan's completion, spoke of "an admirable picture of spiritual grace - a rare moment of spiritual bliss - to which we are all witnesses. " But far from being a relic, the church continues to thrive with the energy of the community it houses. I encourage any visitors to the church to walk through the intricately decorated doors and take some time to absorb the sheer size and depth of the church. Narrow strips of stained glass depicting biblical scenes and significant events in the history of the Armenian Church rise up to the impressive dome, which depicts Christian symbols in paint and stained glass, such as a human eye within a triangle (representing the omniscient Triune God), the wooden ship (representing the Church), and the white dove (representing the Holy Spirit). Closer to the altar, the “Head of Christ” is chiseled on a slate of stone in high relief. Silver and gold crosses decorate the distinctly Armenian altar. On the sides of the altar are paintings of St. Sahag and St. Mesrob, the two men credited with inventing the Armenian Alphabet, and a painting that seeks to honor the victims of the dreadful Armenian genocide.