David Ehrlich, author and owner of Tmol Shilshom, passed away

Ehrlich is survived by his partner and their children, 12-year-old twins, as well as his sister and parents.

Tmol Shilshom (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tmol Shilshom
(photo credit: Courtesy)
David Ehrlich, the owner of the beloved Jerusalem restaurant/literary cafe/bookstore Tmol Shilshom and the author of several books, died sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning in his sleep at the age of 60.
He had not been ill, and his death, which was apparently from a heart attack, came as a shock to his family and friends.
Ehrlich, whose books include a short-story collection called Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel, which was published in English, as well as several works in Hebrew, combined his passion for entertaining and fine dining with his love for literature when he opened the restaurant in 1994.

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חברים וחברות, לקוחות יקרים. בצער רב ובכאב גדול עלי לעדכן ולהודיע ששותפי היקר, חברי הטוב והמייסד של תמול שלשום, דוד ארליך נפטר הלילה. קשה לי לדבר עליו בלשון עבר. דוד היה איש רוח, אדם אוהב בריות בעל לב רחב. איש משפחה ואב למופת. הטוב שבו, הרעות והתקווה לעתיד טוב תמיד היו דרכו. עוד נשב כולנו ונדבר עליו ועל מי שהיה. ההלוויה תתקיים בחוג המשפחה על פי ההנחיות. על מועד השבעה נעדכן. יהיה זכרו ברוך. דן ומשפחת תמול שלשום. ‏Dear freinds. ‏With great sadness and inexplicable pain, I announce that my dear partner, close friend and founder of Tmol Shilshom, David Ehrlich passed away tonight. ‏It is hard for me to talk of him in the past tense. ‏The good in him, the love and hope for a better future always guided him. ‏The funeral will be for family members only. ‏We will update regarding the Shivah. ‏May his memory be blessed. ‏Dan and Tmol Shilshom family.

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Located in the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood in the center of town, Tmol Shilshom, which is named for a novel by S.Y. Agnon, quickly became a hub of the city’s cultural life. The quirky and welcoming eatery, lined with books and decorated with a vintage feel appropriate to a 19th-century literary salon, is the place to go in the capital to hear authors reading and discussing their work, as well as to enjoy a great meal.
The poet Yehuda Amichai gave a reading at the restaurant’s opening, and many acclaimed Israeli authors frequented and read at the place, including Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Orly Castel-Bloom and Batya Gur.
Foreign writers such as Nadine Gordimer also made Tmol Shilshom a stop on their visits to Israel. Nathan Englander wrote his famous short story “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges” at the restaurant. In addition to readings, Tmol Shilshom also hosts musical events, discussion panels and a book club.
With the charming, low-key Ehrlich at the helm, the restaurant became as vibrant and diverse as the city in which it is located, with literary lights rubbing shoulders with Orthodox couples on dates, in an oasis of tranquility, tolerance and fun. He ran the restaurant with his business partner, Dan Greenberg.
Coming from a family of teachers and academics, Ehrlich was an unlikely restaurateur. His father, Yehudah, is a Holocaust survivor who also survived a pogrom in Kanczuga, Poland, in 1945 following the war.
Raised mostly in Ramat Gan, Ehrlich spent a few years in Jerusalem as a child, when his father was studying at the Hebrew University, and formed a lifelong connection to the city.
He taught Hebrew at several universities and schools, including Emory University in the US, and worked as a journalist, but always wrote fiction — he was a writer who ran a restaurant, not a restaurateur who wrote on the side — and eventually came up with the concept for Tmol Shilshom.
WHILE IT’S a safe bet that lots of customers first came to the restaurant for the literary events, many stayed — and returned — for the food.
The approach to the menu is a seamless blend of the culinary and the literary, with menus decorated with classic Hebrew book covers and a menu that reads like a story, with little jokes like “The Plot Thickens” in the section on main dishes.
A kosher dairy restaurant, the menu is Mediterranean-inspired and eclectic. Ehrlich was constantly retooling it, testing out new dishes and improving others. It is popular with tourists and Israelis alike.
Lonely Planet’s Food Lover’s Guide to the World (2012) named the shakshuka as one of the 10 best breakfasts in the world, and now the menu features five different types of the dish.
A starter called David’s Soups is a popular dish, consisting of small portions of three different soups with salsa verde, which is served in the winter.
The dish has an interesting origin, one that is emblematic of Ehrlich’s style as a restauranteur. The chef was Muslim, and Ehrlich noticed that during Ramadan the soups tasted odd. He spoke to the chef about it, and it turned out that the chef couldn’t taste the soups to check the seasoning as he cooked, because of the ban on eating during the holiday. So Ehrlich began tasting them himself and giving the chef his recommendations. When diners saw David sipping the three small soups, it looked so appetizing that many said, in effect, “I’ll have what he’s having,” and so the David’s Soups platter was born.
THIS INCLUSIVE and creative approach to collaborating with a Muslim chef was reflected in Ehrlich’s attitude to all aspects of his life. He was among the first gay men in Jerusalem to raise children with a partner, and he had a relaxed approach to what was at the time a groundbreaking situation.
Alon Shachar, the executive director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, offered a tribute to Ehrlich: “Our hearts are broken by the news of David Ehrlich's passing. He was one of the most prominent figures in the Jerusalem Pride community in recent decades, a groundbreaking writer, a member of the Open House and a pillar of the community…. He was always happy to host events and gatherings of the Pride community related to literature and spirituality. Much more will be written about his contribution to the unique fabric of life in the city and to the special outreach he led in talking to leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community during protests against the Pride Parade events in 2006.”
While Ehrlich did a great deal for many aspects of Jerusalem life, running a restaurant in such a complex city, particularly while trying to balance this work with his own writing and family life, was never easy.
Keeping Tmol going was at times a financial struggle, particularly during the Second Intifada, when terrorist attacks killed many all around the restaurant. He recalled seeing Orthodox couples who would hear the bombs explode and pause for a moment, but then continue with their dates, which were so complex to arrange, and he respected their spirit. He was proud of the fact that the restaurant was a welcoming spot for couples, and kept a book of all those who had gone there for dates that had blossomed into serious relationships, The Love Book of Tmol Shilshom.
On a personal note, Ehrlich was a good friend to my family for decades, and I consider myself lucky to have known him.
When he learned my older son, Danny, who has autism, loved the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he gave him a plate from the restaurant that was decorated with a quote from the book.
He was kind enough to offer my younger son an after-school job at the restaurant, and so my son became part of the Tmol “family” of employees, an unusually close-knit group.
Through my son, I got a glimpse into Ehrlich’s management style, warm and encouraging but also tough and demanding. Diners felt at home there, but noted that the friendly atmosphere was accompanied by top-notch food and service.
Ehrlich is survived by his partner and their children, 12-year-old twins, as well as his sister and parents. A small funeral was held Monday in Rehovot, in accordance with the Health Ministry guidelines in place during the virus outbreak. Friends say that when the outbreak is over, there will be a memorial service that all those who loved and cared for David can attend.