The Cafés Where Modern Jewish Literature Was Born

Sept. 28 2018

In A Rich Brew, the literary historian Shachar Pinsker looks at the role of coffeehouses in Jewish intellectual life in the period from 1848 through 1939, focusing on the six cities of Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, New York, and Tel Aviv. Jeffrey Yoskowitz writes in his review:

Pinsker packs his history with titillating behind-the-scenes snapshots of a cast of fascinating . . . Jewish figures in cafés throughout history, including luminaries such as Moses Mendelssohn, Karl Marx, and Theodor Herzl. It’s a rather ingenious organizing principle for a book: since there was so much cultural output produced in cafés and, consequently, about them, the author is granted the latitude to quote rich passages from seminal works of Hebrew and Yiddish literature to put them in context. It’s hard to imagine figures like Abraham Cahan, the editor of the Yiddish Forverts, and Lincoln Steffens, the famed muckraker and author of The Shame of the Cities, crossing paths, yet Steffens served as Cahan’s editor at The New York Commercial Advertiser. Cahan even managed to drag Steffens to his preferred Jewish café, Café Herrick on [Manhattan’s] Lower East Side, where Steffens observed “the debate was on at every table.” . . .

As Pinsker explains it, taverns and clubs were frequently off-limits to Jews in Europe and North America, which is why cafés were rare spaces where Jewish intellectuals and literary figures could feel at home. The café often became a de-facto Jewish club where writers and thinkers posted themselves each day to hear the news and gossip, network, argue, and write. When they entered a new city, Jewish intellectuals knew where to find likeminded souls. . . .

In his novel Wandering Stars, Sholem Aleichem described London’s Café National where, at any time of day, “you would find a collection of Jews of every type that your heart desired,” including “stockbrokers, doctors of philosophy, traveling salesmen, missionaries, peddlers, actors, diamond merchants, office workers, journalists, chess players, clerks, Zionists, Territorialists looking for a piece of land—even in Africa—where Jews could settle, and young people from who knew where, shouting and blustering.” . . .

As important as the café was to the Jewish literary world, Pinsker reminds us that [it] wasn’t open to all. Only those ready to adopt an urban way of life, and, in some cases, leave their families and religious observances behind, sat in cafés as part of the intellectual class. . . . Jewish women, like the poet Leah Goldberg in Tel Aviv, were [rare] figures in the coffeehouses. Goldberg, who visited cafés every day and usually sat alone, was described as attempting to find “a café of her own.”

Read more at In geveb

More about: Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Jewish literature, Leah Goldberg, Sholem Aleichem, Yiddish literature


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount