My Dearest Daveed

Daveed Ehrlich and Deena Levenstein at Tmol Shilshom, Jerusalem, November 2014. Photo by Dana Laura Lavi
Daveed Ehrlich and Deena Levenstein at Tmol Shilshom, Jerusalem, November 2014. Photo by Dana Laura Lavi

A letter to my dear friend Daveed Ehrlich, visionary and co-owner of Tmol Shilshom Cafe in Jerusalem, who passed away last Sunday, March 22nd, 2020. Click here to help Tmol Shilshom keep their doors open.

My Dearest Daveed,

You’ve passed away. I found out from a message I saw on my phone at 3 am the night after it happened. I practically threw my phone at Ofer and demanded, “It can’t be true. Find proof that it isn’t true!”

But it was.

I started sobbing and rocking myself back and forth, trying to understand what I’d just found out. I attempted to talk quietly so as not to scare my baby. Ofer said to her, “Ima is sad,” as he pulled me close.

Daveed, I felt like I couldn’t digest this news. You just turned 61. You are so alive, so important to so many people, in particular to your two wonderful children. You just published your third book. You need to get Tmol Shilshom through the worst crisis it’s ever endured. You need to continue being that pivotal Jerusalemite who at once is secular and has been openly gay “forever,” and at the same time is the visionary and the drive behind a kosher cafe that is the go-to for first dates of so many religious couples. You need to continue creating the stage for people to share their creativity and to discuss things openly. And you need to continue sending me Shabbat shalom messages via WhatsApp, as you always did, even when we weren’t able to meet in person.

You were close with the greatest Israeli writers and you were a fountain of information in regards to everything relating to Israeli culture. And that, together with being a lover of stories, – whether telling or hearing them – made you a fascinating person to hang out with. You’d tell me personal stories about places you’d been and people you’d met, and when you’d mention someone famous who I didn’t know (which happened all the time), I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge but you never looked down on me. Instead, you’d tell me in the most riveting way, about this person, about their story and their importance within Israeli culture. I often told you that you should host a series on local culture for us immigrants who are so lacking in this pivotal knowledge.

Daveed Ehrlich and Deena Levenstein at Tmol Shilshom, Jerusalem, November 2014. Photo by Dana Laura Lavi

Now that you are no longer here, I am scrambling to recall as many memories with you as possible. We did so many projects together (like this and this) and you hosted so many of my reading and storytelling events. But the thing that stands out in all of my memories of you is that you were always a a mensch and had a deep love for people.

Your admiration and respect for people shone through in all your interactions. As I scroll through photos from the reading and storytelling events I hosted at Tmol Shilshom, I see you sitting in the audience with a huge smile on your face. You weren’t just doing me a favor, hosting my events. You loved what went on there. You revelled in people’s stories, creations and the sharing of these things. These people, who were seemingly so far from your lifestyle, touched you. You let them touch you, no matter their backgrounds or beliefs. That attitude you had towards all people repeatedly shook me awake, helping me to understand my own potential in appreciating the people around me, no matter how different they are from me.

It was this love of people that made me think of you when my Bubby passed away. After much thought, the text for the gravestone was written, but I wanted one last person to read it and make sure there were no mistakes in the Hebrew and that it flowed well. It felt so right when I thought of giving this sensitive task to you. I knew that with your impeccable Hebrew you’d catch any mistakes, however small, and I loved that you’d have a part in this important step towards honoring my grandmother. As expected, you took on the task with the utmost sensitivity and grace.

In many ways you were blessed and in many other ways you created your own fortune. You have your parents who today are 90 and 95 years old (Holocaust survivors, if I remember correctly). You have two wonderful children, a 12.5 year old twin boy and girl, who were your great joy. You created your dream cafe and kept it running with your partner and close friend for 24 years. It’s not as though every single thing in your life was perfect, but you always seemed to enjoy and focus on your blessings.

A few months ago, while I was trudging through my arduous pregnancy, you came to Jaffa to speak about your newest book, Cafe Shira. Ofer and I went to hear you speak and afterwards I bought a copy of the book and asked you to sign it. Then we hugged and kissed and Ofer and I left the event. On our short walk home I quickly found a bench and sat down so I could read and enjoy whatever you’d written to me. You wrote:

לדינה,
שותפתי הנאמנה לדברים שברוח ובתוכן,
בגעגעוע וגם בתקווה לעתיד.
דוד
יולי 2019

To Deena,
My loyal partner in things of spirit and content,
With longing and also with hope for the future.
Daveed
July 2019

I cherished this inscription before but now I do even more.

Daveed, we just saw each other on Shushan Purim. We hung out and caught up on each other’s lives. You met my baby, Chen, and we schmoozed with your dear son about his love of music. During that last meeting I told you that it was you who’d first opened my heart to the possibility of becoming a mother, of bringing a new life into this world.

I don’t really understand that you’re gone. After you passed away I kept wondering why you didn’t call to give me the news myself. And now I wish I could show you this piece that I’ve written for you – I think you’d like it. And I just want to know that you are going about your busy life in your beloved Jerusalem, bringing light into this world as you always did.

But I guess it isn’t so.

Daveed, your encouragement and belief in me, your straightforwardness, your faith in humanity, your ability to put one foot in front of the other, your sincere smile, your openness, your humility are just some of the things I will miss and just some of the things that I am taking with me as I move forward in my life, always finding inspiration and strength in who you were and who you were to me.

May you rest in peace, my dearest Daveed.

Love, your ever-faithful and sorrowful friend,

Deena

About the Author
Deena is a new mother, a project manager and a writer living in Jaffa.
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