The Cafés Where Modern Jewish Literature Was Born

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

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy