Dan Goldenberg looks over at a large brown armchair in the corner of the dining room at Tmol Shilshom, where the wood tables and mismatched chairs are the same as when the restaurant first opened in 1994.
“That’s Yehuda Amichai’s chair,” he says. “And David and I used to sit there every day and have a glass of wine. Sometimes when I sit there today, I still feel David guiding me and telling me what to do.”
Amichai, of course, was the famous poet who often read his poems aloud at Tmol Shilshom, and David was David Ehrlich, the beloved writer and co-owner of Tmol Shilshom, who died in March 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic.
Under David’s leadership Tmol Shilshom became a cultural mecca with frequent literary and musical events. The name of the restaurant is taken from the title of a novel by S.Y. Agnon, which translates as “Only Yesterday.”
While David did not die of COVID-19, Goldenberg believes the pandemic is responsible for his death at the age of 61. Just two days earlier, the first lockdown forced them to close the restaurant. They knew the closure would be lengthy, and Goldenberg says they did not believe they would ever be able to reopen.
“David was devastated,” he says sadly.
That night, David didn’t feel well, but he was afraid to go to the hospital because of the fear of COVID-19. The next morning, he had a fatal heart attack.
Goldenberg thought that was the end of Tmol Shilshom. But the staff started a GoFundMe campaign that raised NIS 320,000, and the restaurant was able to reopen.
“The workers and the customers gave me so much confidence,” Goldenberg says.
Tmol Shilshom was a fixture in the English-speaking Jerusalem world. So many couples celebrated their first dates and engagements there that Ehrlich wrote a book about some of the couples who met at Tmol Shilshom. Goldenberg says that while the restaurant was closed, one day a young man came in and said that he and his wife were celebrating their third anniversary and he wanted to surprise her by celebrating at Tmol Shilshom.
“But we’re closed,” Goldenberg said. “We’ve unplugged the refrigerators, there are no staff. It’s not possible.”
“I’ll bring everything,” the young man said. “Just let me use the place.”
Goldenberg agreed, and the couple had a private celebration at the closed restaurant.
Another couple got engaged at Tmol Shilshom and had their first son’s brit and later bar mitzvah there as well.
MY HUSBAND and I arrived at Tmol Shilshom on a Friday morning at 9:30, when it was empty. By the time we left around 11, both rooms of the restaurant as well as the patio outside were full.
The menu is being refreshed, but there was a series of full breakfasts on offer. I chose the Classic Shakshuka breakfast (NIS 64), with shakshuka in a mildly spicy tomato, pepper and onion sauce. There is also an Italian Shakshuka (NIS 64) with mozzarella, pesto and fresh basil, a Greek Shakshuka (NIS 64) with feta and kalamata olives, and a Vegan Shakshuka with tofu, olives and vegan cheese. It came with several dips, including eggplant cream and tehina.
Every breakfast comes with a cold drink and a hot drink. Usually you can upgrade to fresh-squeezed juice for an extra NIS 5, but they were out of fresh juice. We did upgrade to an oven-baked focaccia for an extra NIS 9, which is well worth it. The shakshuka was delicious, and the coffee even came with the foam made into a picture of a leaf.
My husband ordered the Breakfast in the Streets (NIS 64), with a mushroom and herb omelette that he said was excellently made, and the same extras that came with my breakfast.
For dessert Eden, our friendly waitress, recommended the crack pie. My husband ordered it, and I “tasted” it, meaning he gets all the calories.
As we were almost ready to leave, a young couple with a baby sat in the corner next to us. The father, with a long ginger beard, sat in the Amichai armchair. The mother nursed the baby and then handed it to the father, who placed the baby facing outward on his chest, where he lay quietly and looked around, perfectly content. The tired-looking couple ordered and ate their breakfast and drank their much-needed coffee.
I could almost see both Amichai and Ehrlich smiling.
5 Yoel Moshe Solomon, Jerusalem
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Kashrut: Jerusalem Rabbinate. All vegetables are Gush Katif.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.