In the long history of Jewish culinary triumphs, there has never been a finer invention than pastrami on rye. And there has never been a rye bread more indelibly linked to Jews than Levy’s.
For that we have the “Mad men” of Madison Avenue to thank, and in particular, a Jewish “Mad woman” named Judy Protas. Protas, who came up with the line, was ahead of her time. With a Master’s degree in English literature from Yale, she rose through the ranks of an industry that was not particularly welcoming to ambitious women.
If you lived in New York in the 1960s or 1970s, it was impossible to escape Protas’s eye-catching ads for Levy’s. They were everywhere, and each one featured a presumably goyishe face – an Irish cop, a young Asian boy, an American Indian, a black boy – with the tag line: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye.”(You also don’t have to be white to be Jewish, but try telling that to the admen.)
In the most diverse city in America, Protas created a slogan that became legendary and, not incidentally, sold “Jewish rye” to millions of New Yorkers who didn’t know they already loved it.
Alas, Levy’s sold its name and moved to Connecticut in 1979. But Protas’s slogans – and legacy – continue to capture the cultural mixing that defined 1970s NYC.
Watch an old TV ad for Levy’s:
Commiserate with the famous (fictional) 1950s “Mad woman”: