Café Shi­ra

David Ehrlich; Michael Swirsky, trans. 

  • Review
By – July 26, 2022

A one-of-a-kind book about a one-of-a-kind busi­ness in a one-of-a-kind city, Café Shi­ra presents a nuanced, humor­ous, and fas­ci­nat­ing pic­ture of human­i­ty set in a renowned café in the heart of Jerusalem.

The tit­u­lar café is a fic­tion­al ver­sion of Tmol Shilshom, a land­mark site famil­iar to both locals and tourists that has served as a lit­er­ary hang­out and eatery since 1994. It is filled with ambi­ence, books, and a col­or­ful cast of char­ac­ters who tra­di­tion­al­ly take up res­i­dence at their” tables and watch the com­ings and goings of oth­ers while read­ing, writ­ing, chat­ting, or sim­ply think­ing. The book is writ­ten by David Ehrlich, the well-known founder and co-pro­pri­etor of Tmol Shilshom. He died in 2022, and his pass­ing has reached news broad­casts and arti­cles well beyond Jerusalem city limits.

The sto­ry is divid­ed into sec­tions, each focus­ing pri­mar­i­ly on a char­ac­ter, be it a patron, an employ­ee, or even the author him­self, who spares his fic­tion­al­ized per­sona no mer­cy from satire. Back­grounds are explored, roman­tic lives spec­u­lat­ed on, dai­ly habits exam­ined and won­dered at. A com­mu­ni­ty forms, rela­tion­ships wax and wane, and human inter­est sto­ries devel­op and flour­ish — all with a series of iron­ic twists and a per­va­sive humor that leav­en each char­ac­ter sketch. The own­er, the wait­ress, the pil­grim, and the poet: these mem­o­rable char­ac­ters inter­act with one anoth­er and become a part of the larg­er city land­scape. Inter­laced with real-life pho­tographs that impart a sense of place and jux­ta­pose the fan­ta­sy of the sto­ries, Café Shi­ra is a point­ed and unusu­al look at the ways peo­ple live their lives. What shows on the sur­face can be a hint to, or a com­plete mis­di­rec­tion of, the emo­tions, thoughts, and dreams that oth­ers can­not see.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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