A Rich Brew
How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture by Shachar M. Pinsker
Finalist, 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience, presented by the Jewish Book Council
Winner, 2019 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award, in the Jewish Literature and Linguistics Category, given by the Association for Jewish Studies
I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it in an E mail from The National Jewish Book Council. My favourite story by Stefan Zweig, "Mendel the Bibliophile" is set in a Jewish cafe in Vienna. For sure I wanted to learn about the role of cafes in the development of Jewish modernarity, the theme of Pinsker's book.
Sadly for me the Kindle edition was priced at $29.40 so I just added it to my Amazon Wish List. I regularly monitor the list for price drops and when I saw it was being offered for $1.95 I at once hit "purchase now". (The price still holds today, a great value.).
Anyone into Yiddish Literature and the culture of Ashkenzi Jews will be very glad they read this book. The work opens with an account, the time period covered is roughly 1850 to 1950, of how Jewish men came to find in cafes and Jewish delis a new "home away from home".
The cafe culture in six cities is explored. There are chapters on Odessa, portrayed as a city with a shady reputation, Warsaw and Vienna cafes were centers of intellectual, political and philosophical debate, in Berlin the shadow of what will come haunts us. Many Eastern European Jews moved to New York City. Pinsker explains the tremendous proliferation of Yiddish publications, theater in New York City. Immigrants wanted a place to hang out with a feel of home. The last city covered is Tel Aviv.
Jewish cafes were originally all male, the sexes did not casually socialize together. Over time female writers and intellectuals came to be be accepted.
I really enjoyed all the illustrative references to Yiddish and Hebrew language literature. One of my very favorite works of Yiddish literature, The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl by Sholem Aleichem is referenced numerous times. This book has a special place in the history of my blog. Seven years ago Yale University Press gave me the nine volume Yale Yiddish Library. The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl was the first work of Yiddish literature I have read. I have been reading in the field ever since. Pinsker refers to events in the letters numerous times. I would recommend this book just on the strength of the literary references alone to those with a strong interest in Jewish history and culture.
He closes the book with an account of cafes in our time.
I thank Professor Pinsker for this elegantly structured highly edifying book.
From the website of Shachar Pinskar
I am a literary scholar and cultural historian with specialization in multilingual modern Jewish culture in Palestine/Israel, Europe, and America. I have a joint appointment at the department of Middle East Studies and the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.
I am the author of two award winning books, A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture (NYU Press , 2018), and Literary Passports: The Making of Modernism Hebrew Fiction in Europe(Stanford, 2011). My third book (in progress) is A Silent Language? Yiddish in Israeli Literature.