McALLEN — The son of a Holocaust survivor dedicated the Rio Grande Valley’s first kosher market and deli here on Sunday to his family who died at the hands of Nazis.

Russell Kassman, a Chicago native, moved to McAllen a few months ago and quickly found comfort in the Jewish community here. Kassman’s father survived the Auschwitz concentration camp after losing his parents, first wife and a newborn baby.

On Sunday, he shared that his grandfather and other family members died in these camps due to starvation because they firmly believed in their kosher way of life.

“So, for [Kassman] the ability to have avenues of food and kosher food has become something very important in his life because of the tragedies that they had to live through, the sacrifices that they made,” Rabbi Asher Hecht of Chabad RGV said before the event. “It has a meaningful component to it. It’s not just another meat business.”

Kosher foods are ready to purchase at the Valley Kosher Market and Deli on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The Kosher Market and Deli is important to Kassman for this reason, because he wants to provide a place where the Jewish community and the general public can come and buy their kosher meals. 

It was also mentioned at the event that it has been difficult for the people of Jewish faith to find kosher meats in the Valley.

Hecht said he and his wife only eat home-cooked meals and haven’t dined out in their 11 years in the Valley because of the lack of kosher options, specifically because of the lack of produce in the region.

Aside from the general opening of the business, which will be owned by the synagogue, Kassman used the space to give meaning to his faith and brought the children of the survivors of the Holocaust together for a reunion. 

Rabbi Asher Hecht dedicates Valley Kosher Market and Deli to the Lewent Family members, Abe, Moshe, and Samuel during their grand opening on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

After a life of searching for answers about his family with his father, Kassman was able to track down three of his distant cousins who traveled from Canada and all parts of the country to attend the market and deli dedication.

Rachel Amir, Kassman’s cousin, is the daughter of one of the Lewent cousins, and spoke about her father’s journey and how he escaped the camps and fled to Israel.

Another cousin of Kassman, Renee Lewent Kugel, is the daughter of Abe Lewent and gave the same speech her father gave after he had survived the Holocaust.

Kosher chicken for sale at the Valley Kosher Market and Deli on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

She said that speech was the first time she heard any details about her father’s experience during that time. Lewent Kugel said her father survived seven concentration camps and finally escaped when he got word that his father was still alive.

“My father escaped from a labor camp at the age of 16 to reunite with his father in the Warsaw ghetto,” she told The Monitor in an email. “Eventually both my father and his father were removed from the ghetto and sent to a different labor camp. His father was killed in that camp.”

In total, her father survived seven camps during the war, including Dachau, until he was liberated by the Americans in 1942, she said.

All of the cousins spoke of their parents with sincerity. Each cousin was afraid that they were the last of their bloodline and were pleased when they found each other scattered throughout the world.

Unfortunately, when Kassman’s father finally got to reconnect with his cousin, he died a few days later. Kassman said his father was elated to find his cousin because he said he finally had someone to talk to who understood him. 

“When the opportunity to dedicate a Kosher deli came about it seemed like the exact correct opportunity to memorialize my dad and his two cousins,” Kassman said.

Rabbi Asher Hecht places a mezuzah on the doorpost during a blessing as he opens the Valley Kosher Market and Deli on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Seventy-six years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945, a McAllen resident has given his extended Kassman and Lewent family a platform to share their journeys.

The Kosher Market and Deli will open in March where the community can order their 100% authentic kosher meals.

The market and deli is located at 601 W. Dove Ave. in McAllen and will take online orders at until its official opening.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify information about Lewent Kugel’s experiences.