But we came here to sample the bialy, the crustier, more topographically varied cousin to the bagel. While bagels are boiled then baked, a bialy is only baked, with a depression in the middle rather than a hole. Unlike bagels, a bialy has a distinct top and bottom half.

Between our bialy was a thick slather of lox spread that bore the color of an orange Dreamsicle. Taken as one, it was chewy, rich and textured, requiring contributions from both lower and upper sets of teeth.

Dr. Brown's was the deli soda of choice from Zedek's childhood. His father was a Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray guy — celery flavored and reminiscent of ginger ale. He himself liked cream soda. We grabbed a can of cream soda from the cooler for old times' sake.

Zedek took a sip and grimaced. "That's tough to drink. Way too sweet. My God, how did I ever like this?"

He took a moment to reflect.

"We look back with lots of experiences and we inflate and distort them, sometimes not for the betterment of ourselves or others," he said. "It's never going to go away. But that doesn't mean it's not dangerous."

We met a gentleman waiting in line to order who swore by this place. One reason is the store is open 24 hours, ideal for 3 a.m. bagel and lox cravings (there are two other locations, though not open round-the-clock). We asked him, if this bakery went out of business, where would he go? The man said he didn't know. He did not have a second choice.

"And so it goes," Zedek said.

And so it goes. That statement, which sticks with me all these weeks later, was powerful in its nonchalance. Embracing differences — you would think it's a lesson that could stop our bickering, maybe end wars. The first step is sometimes as simple as sitting down to break bread.

Bagel spots:

New York Bagel & Bialy (three locations): 4714 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, 847-677-9388 (open 24 hours); 3556 W. Dempster St., Skokie, 847-673-9388; 8794 W. Dempster St., Niles, 847-390-0993

Kaufman's Delicatessen & Bakery: 4905 W. Dempster St., Skokie, 847-677-6190

Once Upon a Bagel: 1888 First St., Highland Park, 847-433-1411

kpang@tribune.com

Twitter @kevinthepang