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Zel Camiel
Sam Borgese, 10th Street

Photo courtesy Joyce Camiel


During my recent travel between New York and Del Mar, I became acquainted with a columnist of a national Jewish web site. Our conversation drifted from business to Del Mar. When I mentioned Zel Camiel, we began a two-hour reminiscence.
Zel was an iconic community figure in Del Mar. It was not unusual to hear people address Zel as the “mayor” of Del Mar. The title was well-deserved. He loved Del Mar. Zel considered Del Mar nothing short of paradise. During our walks together and those times when I was occasionally drafted as his driver, Zel would recount stories of his time in Honduras or working at Aqua Caliente in Tijuana. The stories always had a humorous view of human behavior. No matter how many times you heard them, they made you smile.

Zel Camiel immigrated to America from Ostolenka, Poland. His journey took him through Latin America and finally to Del Mar. And what a journey, with stories that could fill a book. His son, Shimon Camiel, has captured all the color and richness of Zel’s life in a new book called “Zelig’s Odyssey” (Universe Publisher), a must read for those who knew Zel.

From his liquor store at the old Del Mar Plaza, Zel greeted his customers and provided them that good story or a joke to lighten their day. Zel’s Liquor Store became a second stop after Boney’s Market or one of the other small shops that made up the old Del Mar Plaza. Often when Zel and his wife Jeanne went to Israel he would ask me to “watch the store.” This meant minimizing the amount of beer that went out the back door by the local boys Zel would hire for making deliveries. Zel’s Liquor Store was a sure bet employer for most of Del Mar teens.

Over the past 50 years, Del Mar has been home to many distinguished, accomplished and generous individuals. Zel Camiel was one of those individuals. He added texture and richness and human spirit to the community. We have many residents in Del Mar today who provide the community with some of the same qualities, and I am sure we will see many more. However, we may never know another Zel.


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