Yesterday once more

Tmol Shilshom staff and friends crowdfund to save beloved cafe

‘We were drawn to the place, and we won’t let it go,’ says one of the former cafe staffers behind the Headstart page that aims to raise NIS 250,000

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A week after writer David Ehrlich, founder of Jerusalem’s beloved bookshop cafe Tmol Shilshom, died of a sudden heart attack, the cafe staff and his co-owner, Dan Goldberg, were crowdfunding NIS 250,000 (some $70,000) in order to reopen the establishment once the coronavirus pandemic is past.

“Tmol Shilshom is not just a restaurant,” wrote the group behind the Headstart project. “[It is] for many people a quiet space, a sane, safe area within the streets of Jerusalem. It is a place of culture for authors, poets, musicians, philosophers, intellectuals — but more than anything, Tmol Shilshom is home.”

None of the staff have worked since the cafe was shuttered during the second week of March, said Tamar Schachter, who worked on the cafe’s content team.

“When David died, we all felt that we can’t just let Tmol Shilshom close, because it was his biggest dream, and we can’t just say goodbye to his dream,” said Schachter. “I’m a Jerusalemite, and I came to Tmol Shilshom before I worked there. We were drawn to the place, and we won’t let it go.”

With the arrival of the coronavirus and the sudden death of Ehrlich, 61, the cafe, which had been struggling financially, had to close its doors for the first time in its 26 years of operation.

The crowdfunding project was created by the so-called family of Tmol Shilshom, all of whom couldn’t attend Ehrlich’s funeral due to social distancing restrictions.

They wrote that they went to Tmol Shilshom instead, sitting on the ground outside the locked gate of the cafe, and laying flowers, candles and letters in Ehrlich’s memory.

For the last 25 years, the book-lined cafe in the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood has been known as a place where authors, poets and book lovers sit, nurse a cup of tea, and, often, work on their writing.

Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai read his poems at Tmol Shilshom’s opening in 1994, later followed by Amos Oz, Aharon Appelfeld, David Grossman and Etgar Keret.

Ehrlich struggled to keep the cafe open at various times — during the Second Intifada in 2000, and again in 2014 and 2015, when tourism was decimated by rockets from Gaza.

In 2015, while battling to keep his business going, he told The Times of Israel, “This place has an importance far beyond my making a living.”

Last week, just a day before he died, he announced that the cafe would be closing indefinitely because of the coronavirus.

The crowdfunding project is taking account of staff hires and covering the recent losses incurred by the cafe.

Donations range from a minimum of NIS 40, which gets the donor’s name printed on a place mat, to NIS 120 for Ehrlich’s book, “Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel,” NIS 300 for the gift of a meal to health workers, NIS 2,000 for an annual membership to Tmol Shilshom cultural events, and NIS 10,000 to celebrate a private event at Tmol Shilshom.

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