A final pastrami on rye before it’s time to say goodbye.
After getting a stage four metastatic colon cancer diagnosis, this 92-year-old immediately began planning to do his favorite things for the last time, including one more meal at the beloved Lower East Side institution Katz’s Delicatessen.
“This pilgrimage to the temple of pastrami was among a handful of items on the bucket list that my father, Rabbi Israel S. Dresner, drew up within 24 hours of the doctors telling him last month that he would not make it to his 93rd birthday in April,” wrote Avi Dresner to Forward about the recent bittersweet afternoon he brought his father to the Manhattan deli for one final sandwich.
He and his dad had been regularly eating at Katz’s since the 1970s. His father was born just a few blocks away.
“Like my dad, through all those decades, Katz’s never seemed to change,” Avi wrote.
After eating his last pastrami on rye at Katz’s, Avi and his sister Tamar helped their father fulfill his wish of davening one last time at Midtown’s Central Synagogue. There, the rabbi surprised Dresner by honoring him in front of the congregation with a slideshow of photos of him with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his days as a Civil Rights activist.
“You are the valiant ones. All America went to jail with you,” read a photo in one slide, from a telegram King wrote to Dresner after he was arrested in Tallahassee, Florida, during the first Interfaith Clergy Freedom Ride in 1961. “Your heroism is the nonviolent movement’s witness to a world that has seen too little of the spirit and purpose of the prophets and disciples.”
With the last sandwich consumed, Dresner is now working with his children on drafting his death notice and planning his own funeral — they even picked out his casket together.
The next and final stop on his bucket list is his parents’ graves, “a fitting final stop, as that is where his physical journey will end, too” wrote Avi, who is now working with his sister on producing a documentary about their father and his part in the Civil Rights movement.
Since the Forward piece published last week, Avi tells The Post he’s been inundated with “well over a hundred” emails from his father’s former congregants and strangers alike, all moved and inspired by his story.
“I’ve been overwhelmed, in a good way, by all of the reminiscences that have been pouring in,” he said. “Knowing how many people my dad inspired to carry on his social justice work, in ways big and small, blunts some of the pain over his impending loss and gives me hope for our collective future.”