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.