A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture



Finalist, 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience, presented by the Jewish Book Council

Winner, 2019 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award, in the Jewish Literature and Linguistics Category, given by the Association for Jewish Studies

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.

Product Details

New York University Press
Publish Date
September 15, 2019
6.1 X 9.0 X 1.1 inches | 1.2 pounds

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About the Author

Shachar M. Pinsker is 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.


"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
"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
"Pinsker makes clear the vital role literary cafes played in 19th- and 20th-century Western Jewish culture in this smart volume."--Publishers Weekly
"Shachar Pinskers 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 . . . believes that cafés in six cities created modern Jewish culture. Its 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's greatest strength is in assembling evocative descriptions, both of individual cafés, and of cafés as a species of urban space. He expertly weaves together real-life accounts of cafés, including many in the journalistic-literary genre of the feuilleton, and their fictional depiction in the work of some of the most important Jewish writers of the 19th and 20th centuries."--Reading Religion
"A Rich Brew is an enjoyable, well-written book, accessible to a wide audience. Pinsker does a fine job introducing the reader to the larger historical contexts, especially of each individual city under examination; offers clear overviews of representative Jewish literary and artistic personalities; and, most importantly, brings to life the many (but now defunct) cafés that stand at the heart of his narrative."--AJS Review
"A captivating tale of Jewish intellectual life, fueled by caffeine and good company in cities across the world."--Metropole
"The best part of this book is that it offers a new cultural history of Jewish modernity by utilizing literary studiesusing examples of poetry and prose written in and about cafés, it gives voice to artists who populated these cafés."--Anna Shternshis, University of Toronto
"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
"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
"This meticulously researched book pays tribute to an electrifying network of cafes that once incubated modern Jewish culture."--Hadassah
"[H]ugely entertaining and intimidatingly well researched, with scarcely a café in which a Jewish writer raised a cup of coffee from Warsaw to New York left undocumented."--Adam Gopnik "The New Yorker "
"Weaving stories of writers, artists, activists, and revolutionaries in the cafes of Odessa, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, New York City, and Tel Aviv, Pinsker takes us on a journey from Moses Mendelssohn's philosophical writings in Berlin's Gelehrtes Kaffehause in 1755 to the funeral of the last Yiddish-speaking café owner in 1979 Tel Aviv, 'attended by a crowd of thousands.'"--Marginalia Review of Books
"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