A Rich Brew

How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture

384 pages

59 illustrations

May, 2018

ISBN: 9781479827893



Add to Cart Available: 4/20/2018

Also available in


Shachar M. Pinsker is Associate Professor of 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.    


  • "Pinsker . . . believes that cafés in six cities created modern Jewish culture. It’s the kind of claim that sounds as if it might be a game-changer, and there are enough grounds and gossip in A Rich Brew to keep this customer engrossed from cup to cup."

    The Wall Street Journal

  • "Shachar Pinsker masterfully documents the impact of café life on Jewish culture throughout the civilized world. . . . A Rich Brew is aptly named. Engagingly illustrated with many contemporary photos and cartoons, it offers a deep dive into the café world of six cities that gave birth to modern Jewish thought and culture."

    Moment Magazine

  • "Pinsker takes the reader on a journey across the important centers of modern Jewish culture: Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, New York and Tel Aviv, using a host of different sources and making for a captivating read."

    The Forward

  • "A Rich Brew evokes the sense of lingering in a timeless café, savoring the flavor and scent of good coffee and the conversation that goes along with it."

    The Jewish Week

  • "Shachar Pinsker’s absorbing new work of nonfiction, A Rich Brew, uses the café as a vehicle both to describe the development of modern Jewish culture and to delve into the topics that drove its progression."

    Jewish Book Council

  • "Pinsker makes clear the vital role literary cafes played in 19th- and 20th-century Western Jewish culture in this smart volume."

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Pinsker packs his history with titillating behind-the-scenes snapshots of a cast of fascinating and enigmatic Jewish figures in cafés throughout history . . . makes for engaging, as well as nostalgic, reading, and begs the question: what has replaced the café in contemporary Jewish life?”

    In geveb

  • "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

  • "A Rich Brew is an innovative work of Jewish cultural and literary history that illuminates how the café served as a laboratory that nourished Jewish writers, artists, and intellectuals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the European cafes of Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, and Berlin, to New York and Tel Aviv Jaffa, Pinsker charts a new account of the public spaces of Jewish culture and the new literary and cultural forms that where imagined there."

    —Allison Schachter, author of Diasporic Modernisms: Hebrew and Yiddish Literature in the Twentieth Century

  • "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

  • "The best part of this book is that it offers a new cultural history of Jewish modernity by utilizing literary studies—using examples of poetry and prose written in and about cafés, it gives voice to artists who populated these cafés."

    —Anna Shternshis, University of Toronto