Since opening this past spring, Somerville’s Lehrhaus has gotten plenty of buzz thanks to a very niche concept, as a cultural and epicurean epicenter for Boston Jewish life. It’s part restaurant, with a menu reflecting the Jewish diaspora, designed by big names (Michael Leviton from Area Four and Lumière, and Noah Clickstein from Juliet). It’s part cocktail bar, with drinks imagined by bartender Naomi Levy (Eastern Standard, Maccabee Bar).
And creators Rabbi Charlie Schwartz and Atlas Obscura founder Josh Foer also designed it as a house of learning, with a vast library of Jewish texts (and plenty of popular titles) and some amazingly eclectic classes—from the hidden Jewish history of punk rock to discussions on the Talmud’s take on gay Jews.
This week, I talked to Rabbi Schwartz about some of Lehrhaus’s lesser-known attributes, from fun foodie facts to hometown comedian Alex Edelman’s penchant for art.
Alex Edelman teaching about Jewish art was its best-attended class so far. “The second-best-attended class was when B.J. Novak came by and told Jewish jokes with his brother and father.”
The liquor license reflects Jewish values. “We have the only liquor license in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that includes ‘Sundown on Saturday night’ in our hours of operation.”
It has the world’s only siyyum bell. “When you finish a section of Jewish text, like a tractate of Talmud or a unit of Mishnah, there is a celebration called a siyyum—Hebrew for ‘completion.’ We decided to make the celebration more celebratory by adding a bell you can ring at the end.”
It’s a nonprofit. “We’re driven by a philanthropic mission to celebrate Jewish learning and life. That’s why our menu is shaped like a page of Talmud, our staff is excited to tell you the stories of the dishes and drinks they’re serving you (everything has a story), we have a study designed for classes in the back and our space is filled with Jewish books and texts instead of screens. While dinners aren’t tax-deductible, if you’re energized by our mission, you can make a tax-deductible gift to Lehrhaus.”
There are 11-plus languages on the kosher-certified menu. “Our menu is filled with words like kugel, s’chug, kashkarikas, et cetera. The languages are English, Italian, German, Yiddish, Arabic, Amharic, Marathi, Spanish, Ladino [Judaeo-Spanish], Hebrew, French, Persian … and maybe a few more.”
You should appreciate every bite of your Reuben sandwich and every sip of your cocktail. “It takes four days to brine, smoke and cure our beet pastrami for our Reuben. And our house-made banana liqueur takes a week to make.”
It persuaded an entire distillery in Seattle to go kosher. “Naomi Levy was trying to find good kosher amaro for us to serve but was struggling to do so. She thought we might be able to use amaro from BroVo in Seattle, since it was made mostly with ingredients that don’t require supervision. Rabbi Moshe Kaufman from KVH had some business on the West Coast, so he visited the distillery. To our surprise, they decided to get all of their non-wine-based products certified kosher through KVH. The owner of the distillery, Mhairi Voelsgen, has since become a big fan of Lehrhaus, even gifting us two books she loves for our library, one by Primo Levy and a second by Judy Blume.”
Indeed, its library is eclectic. Lehrhaus has a library of over 3,000 Jewish books, ranging from sacred texts to graphic novels to cookbooks. “Our cookbook section is the most perused and second are our Talmuds. We have two full sets of the beautiful Noé Talmuds, so folks can learn from them together in chavruta [small groups].”
Its classes are … unusual. “We’ve held over 20 classes with over 500 attendees. We had a great one on the Talmudic line, ‘The best of doctors go to hell,’ and another titled, ‘David Reubeni: A Black Jewish Prince and His Quest to Save the Jews.’”
Chef Noah Clickstein is part of the famous Sephardic de Sola family. “Through his mother, Noah is related to the de Sola Mendes family, one of the most prominent Sephardic rabbinic families in the U.S., among the leaders of the Touro Synagogue in Newport.”
People seem to like it. “We’re on pace to have 40,000 people come through the door this year.”
Will you be one of them? It’s open Sunday through Thursday—closed Friday and Saturday—from 4:30 p.m.