Abe Lebewohl Park
Over a period of forty years, Abe Lebewohl (1931-1996) transformed his Second Avenue Deli into a New York institution, drawing loyal customers from celebrities, tourists and locals alike with his Jewish culinary delicacies and generous and magnetic spirit.
Lebewohl was born in Kulykiv, Ukraine, in 1931. When the Soviets occupied western Ukraine, Abe’s father was arrested and exiled to Siberia, and Abe and his mother were banished to Kazakhstan. The family was reunited and traveled to western Ukraine and then to Poland. They illegally escaped Poland, and made their way through Austria to a refugee camp in Italy, where they spent five years before immigrating to America in 1950.
For a few years, Lebewohl worked as a waiter at a twelve-seat coffee shop on Second Avenue and E. 10th Street. In 1954 the family purchased the property, and gradually expanded it into a 250-seat restaurant, the Second Avenue Deli. The deli became famous for its extensive menu of Ukrainian and Jewish delicacies and its stupendous sandwiches. Customers included such luminaries as Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Mason, Bob Hope, Joan Rivers, Raoul Felder, and Milton Berle.
Abe (also known as Abie) endeared himself to the East Village community with his deep humanity and unflagging generosity, and he often provided free food to homeless people, striking workers, and neighborhood events. In tribute to the Yiddish theaters clustered on and around Second Avenue, Lebewohl created a “Walkway of Yiddish Actors” at the restaurant’s entrance. Proud of his Ukrainian-Jewish roots, he traveled back to the Ukraine in the 1970s. He patronized Ukrainian businesses in the neighborhood and was among the few businessmen who attended a private meeting with Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of independent Ukraine, during a visit to New York.
On March 4, 1996, Abe Lebewohl was fatally shot while depositing his daily receipts at a nearby bank. More than 1,500 mourners attended his funeral at the Community Synagogue on East 6th Street. In tribute to his memory this park was named Abe Lebewohl Park, at the initiative of Council Member Antonio Pagan and the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association.
This triangular space in front of the St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church dates to 1799. It was originally acquired, along with the triangle at East 10th and Stuyvesant Streets, for street purposes and was developed as a sitting area in 1938. The park is host to a greenmarket and a summer concert series. It contains a memorial flagpole that was dedicated in 1944 by the Ukrainian American Society.