Yesterday was a historic day as every Democrat in the House of Representatives plus 10 Republican members with spines voted to impeach (yet again) Donald J. Trump for inciting insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Like many, I was glued to the impeachment proceedings, desperate to see someone face consequences for allowing white supremacists to invade our nation’s capital. But I was barely paying attention to the congresspeople strolling around until something caught my eye: a Zabar’s bag.
That’s right, Jewish Congressman Jerrold Nadler, 73, from New York’s 10th congressional district can be seen carrying a large Zabar’s bag on the House floor during yesterday’s impeachment hearings. Like many, I was immediately dying to know: What’s in Jerry’s bag? The answer is perfect by design. “A babka and the constitution, what else?” Nadler’s deputy press secretary told the West Side Rag last night.
This isn’t the first time Congressman Nadler has been spotted with Zabar’s during a major news moment. Several large Zabar’s bags can be spotted in the background of his March 2019 conference about the recently released Mueller Report. Congressman Nadler confirmed that Zabar’s is a big part of his life. “As a lifelong [Upper West Sider], Zabar’s is not just a local institution but my local grocery store,” he relayed to me through a member of his team. “I regularly shop there all the time for lox, whitefish, rugelach, and of course babka.”
Nadler believes “we on the Upper West Side are lucky to still have an appetizing store like Zabar’s,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Zabar’s is a New York Jewish culinary staple, having resided at 80th and Broadway since 1934. The store was founded by Louis and Lillian Zabar, Ukrainian Jews who immigrated to New York in the 1920s, and it’s now run by younger generations. Once a 22-foot-wide appetizing store — a place that sells foods one eats with bagels, which yes, is an incredible idea for a business — Zabar’s now occupies the full block and sells everything from cooking equipment to fresh salads. You can even shop an entire line of Zabar’s merchandise, which I’m proud to own multiple items from.
Growing up in downtown Manhattan, I rarely had reason to visit Zabar’s as a kid, but I’ve more than made up for the lost time. When I moved to the Upper West Side in my late 20s, I joined Jerry Nadler in using Zabar’s as my local grocery store. As someone who rarely cooks, any store that sells a perfectly cooked single chicken breast for $2.50 gets my business. And while I originally went to Zabar’s out of convenience, I soon found myself smiling every time I walked in, knowing I was connecting to a piece of New York Jewish history. Going there gave me a sense of participating in a cultural ritual.
When I spotted Nadler’s Zabar’s bag yesterday, I joked that it’s the representation I’m looking for, but there’s a lot of truth in that. I identify as culturally Jewish and often connect with my heritage through food and family traditions rather than by going to temple. I see myself more in Nadler schlepping around a huge Zabar’s bag than I might in his actual religious practices. Bringing Zabar’s into the House of Representatives felt like shining a fish-shaped Bat Signal, which we definitely need to see just one week after insurrectionists in antisemitic t-shirts attacked the United States Capitol. As horrific details continue to come out about last Wednesday’s events, I appreciate a brief moment for Jewish culture to shine on the national stage that we know these people don’t want us standing on at all.
“The principles and practices of our founder and father continue to guide us” reads a page on the Zabar’s website. “Respect the customer. Never, ever stint on quality. Offer fair value. And last but not least, keep searching for the new and wonderful.” Watching yesterday’s impeachment hearings I wanted two things: a lox spread from Zabar’s and a government filled with respect, quality, and fairness. Hopefully, on January 20, I’ll get both.