cover image A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture

A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture

Shachar M. Pinsker. New York Univ., $35 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4798-2789-3

Pinsker (Literary Passports), professor of Hebrew literature and culture at the University of Michigan, makes clear the vital role literary cafés played in 19th- and 20th-century Western Jewish culture in this smart volume. By examining the history of cafés in six cities—Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, New York City, and Tel Aviv–Jaffa—Pinsker demonstrates how cafés served as venues for intense exchanges “between Jews and non-Jews, and between Jews of different political and cultural orientations.” Pinsker also highlights the importance of cafés as intimate meeting places that enabled the development of a sense of community for Jews who migrated to large, impersonal cities from small towns, or to a new and unfamiliar country. To buttress his case, Pinsker makes an impressive list of writers and thinkers who found intellectual homes in cafés— S.Y. Agnon, Emma Goldman, Heinrich Heine, Theodor Herzl, and Isaac Bashevis Singer among them. While the prose sometimes veers into academic jargon (“Challenging notions of space as an abstract arena and passive container, cultural geographers posited unified physical, social, and mental conceptions”), Pinsker’s approachable book explains the vital role cafés and salons played in the development of Western Jewish cultures for academics and lay readers alike. (May)