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More on Murray Lender

First, a warm tribute to frozen bagel magnate Murray Lender from the Jewish Federations of North America. Then an ironic and different take on the bagel maven from New Haven.

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JFNA: Murray Lender was "an iconic businessman who helped bring bagels to kitchens around the world. Born into a family business, Lender, along with his brothers Marvin and Sam, pioneered the concept of frozen bagels, and brought a historically Jewish food to people of all backgrounds and ethnicities."

Lender was involved in the Jewish community in New Haven for more than 50 years, and is credited with reinventing the Jewish Community Center. Lender led the effort to raise nearly $18 million to build an impressive new JCC in nearby Woodbridge, the Federations said in a press release.

“The passing of Murray Lender is an indescribable loss for his family and loved ones but for each of us as well,” said Mark Sklarz, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.

…Murray was committed to education about Israel, and for its 50th anniversary, led a yearlong series of events around New Haven. The celebration included videos, lectures, missions to Israel and even an enormous birthday cake, baked by Murray himself.

“Murray cared so much about the Jewish People, and was committed to Tikkun Olam, both in his hometown of New Haven and around the globe,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA.

From Slate’s Matthew Yglesias here’s a different take, titled, Lender’s Bagels and the Power of Mediocrity:

The relatively small size of the New Haven Jewish community may have helped the Lenders because “in a smaller township, ethnic communities intermingled more” giving them an early edge in marketing bagels to non-Jews. More likely it helped bail them out when the frozen nature of the product was unearthed. In a richer bagel economy with many wholesalers selling to many retailers, each of whom vigorously competed for business, any fall-off in quality might have been ruthlessly punished by the market. But the Lenders appear to have had New Haven bagel eaters as a largely captive market. In the hands of uncreative people, that would be a recipe for laziness and mediocrity. But the Lenders, with their workflow-smoothing use of the freezer, proved to be innovators in the field of mediocrity.

…The main way Lender’s changed the world was by arriving on the supermarket shelf. Frozen, the bagel became an exploratory food….Once the bagel went out into the world in frozen form, new customers discovered the product and the bagel became a nationally available foodstuff. New customers for frozen bagels created new demand for fresh ones, and now bagels are widely available all across America – albeit in severely bowdlerized form, much too big and lacking the textural contrast produced by poaching the dough before baking.

The fundamental story of Lender’s Frozen Bagels is that the winning product isn’t always the best one. Like Ikea for furniture, H&M for clothing, or the Olive Garden for Italian food, Lender’s innovated by finding a way to compromise on quality and reap huge gains in other spheres.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Follow the Eulogizer on Twitter @TheEulogizer

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