Salute to a Jerusalem book beacon that fell victim to coronavirus

One Jerusalem cultural landmark, if it survives, will never be the same. Earlier this week, David Ehrlich, founder and co-owner of the Tmol Shilshom café, died at the age of 60.

A sign for the entrance of Tmol Shlishom (photo credit: Courtesy)
A sign for the entrance of Tmol Shlishom
(photo credit: Courtesy)
No one knows what will happen after the coronavirus pandemic eventually dissipates, and life returns to some semblance of normalcy. Perhaps most businesses and cultural outlets will resume their erstwhile routine, although many will, sadly, surely not survive the financial shortfall imposed by the lockdowns.
One Jerusalem cultural landmark, if it survives, will never be the same. Earlier this week, David Ehrlich, founder and co-owner of the Tmol Shilshom café, died at the age of 60.
Ehrlich was not just any old eatery proprietor, and Tmol Shilshom – aka Only Yesterday, named after the eponymous book by Nobel Prize laureate Shai Agnon – was not just one of the hundreds of café-restaurants dotted across Jerusalem’s physical and sociocultural landscape.
Ehrlich opened the place in 1994, with the express intent of nurturing a cultural and particularly literary endeavor in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Over the years I attended book launches and various literary talks there, with the likes of award-winning writer-painter Yoram Kanyuk and pop-rock radio show presenter and writer Boaz Cohen.
There was something delightfully intimate about those, and other, gatherings, as two or three dozen patrons crammed in to hear the writer du jour expound on his or her work and share some of the personal and professional machinations behind their latest release.
The snug ambiance is enhanced by the comfy, homey armchairs and the hundreds of tomes that line the walls of the 19th-century building tucked away in a back alley behind Yoel Salomon Street in Nahalat Shiva. The flagstone floor, Jerusalem stone walls, and arched windows and niches all add to the definitively local vibe.

EHRLICH HAD a personal-professional interest in opening Tmol Shilshom over a quarter of a century ago, and making the space available to writers of all ilks. He was a respected journalist and author himself, putting out such well-received works as a compilation of short stories called Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel, as well as Blue 18 (Hebrew) and Monday and Thursday Mornings (Hebrew). He also shed some light on the quotidian goings-on at the café in Café Shira (Poetry Café), a Hebrew work of fiction, which came out in 2018.
After working at several publications, including the Davar newspaper, the Hamtzan youth weekly and Haaretz, as well as a stint as a journalist and producer at the Voice of Israel state radio station, Ehrlich moved to the States for four years. It was there that he got wind of a developing literature-café hybrid trend, and, shortly after his return to Israel, Tmol Shilshom came to be.
The venue attracted Jerusalemites of all religious, ethnic and social stripes, serving as a magnet for members of the local LGBT community, Arabs from east Jerusalem, and religious and secular Jews alike. It also drew people from outside Jerusalem seeking good food in unique, olde-worlde surroundings.
Tmol Shilshom was a favored spot for men and women of letters – prose and poetry. The likes of Amos Oz, Aharon Appelfeld, Etgar Keret and David Grossman were more than happy to present their latest offerings there, and take questions from the transfixed audience, and internationally acclaimed Israel Prize laureate poet Yehuda Amichai had his own table at the place.
It is a mark of the esteem in which Ehrlich and Tmol Shilshom were held when many of the country’s leading literary figures, including the aforementioned, helped the café get through the financial challenges of the Second Intifada by spearheading book evenings that brought in much-needed audiences and revenue.
Hopefully, the coronavirus will soon be assigned to the scrap heap of collective bad memories, and Ehrlich’s legacy will live on, providing nutritional and spiritual sustenance for all, for many years to come.


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