A Rich Brew

How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture

384 pages

59 illustrations

May, 2018

ISBN: 9781479827893


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Shachar M. Pinsker is Associate Professor Hebrew Literature and Culture at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe

All books by Shachar M. Pinsker

A fascinating glimpse into the world of the coffeehouse and its role in shaping modern Jewish culture     
Unlike the synagogue, the house of study, the community center, or the Jewish deli, the café is rarely considered a Jewish space. Yet, coffeehouses profoundly influenced the creation of modern Jewish culture from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. With roots stemming from the Ottoman Empire, the coffeehouse and its drinks gained increasing popularity in Europe. The “otherness,” and the mix of the national and transnational characteristics of the coffeehouse perhaps explains why many of these cafés were owned by Jews, why Jews became their most devoted habitués, and how cafés acquired associations with Jewishness.  Examining the convergence of cafés, their urban milieu, and Jewish creativity, Shachar M. Pinsker argues that cafés anchored a silk road of modern Jewish culture. He uncovers a network of interconnected cafés that were central to the modern Jewish experience in a time of migration and urbanization, from Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, and Berlin to New York City and Tel Aviv. A Rich Brew explores the Jewish culture created in these social spaces, drawing on a vivid collection of newspaper articles, memoirs, archival documents, photographs, caricatures, and artwork, as well as stories, novels, and poems in many languages set in cafés.   Pinsker shows how Jewish modernity was born in the café, nourished, and sent out into the world by way of print, politics, literature, art, and theater. What was experienced and created in the space of the coffeehouse touched thousands who read, saw, and imbibed a modern culture that redefined what it meant to be a Jew in the world.    


  • "Shachar Pinsker, in part building on research he did for his admirable first book, Literary Passports, has produced a scrupulously documented and finely instructive account of the role of cafes in modern Jewish culture. A Rich Brew, providing apt discussions of many long-forgotten or unknown texts and a generous sampling of photographs of the sundry cafes,  should be of considerable interest both for historians and students of modern Jewish literature."

    —Robert Alter, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

  • "Shachar Pinsker concocts a rich and pleasing brew of material culture, history, sociology, and text analysis to explore the roots of modern Jewish culture as we know it today. Describing the café as a 'thirdspace,' a liminal zone between the intimate and the public spheres, Pinsker follows the emergence of Jewish culture from the synagogue and the traditional house-of-study and its recreation as a modern, urban, secular intellectual heritage. Masterfully constructed and beautifully written, A Rich Brew is an illuminating and pleasurable read." 

    —Ruby Namdar, author of The Ruined House