As dozens of workmen feverishly planted the remaining flowers, trees and sod to adorn the capital’s newest and largest cinemaplex in time for its 7 p.m. Tuesday public debut, protesters gathered by Cinema City’s main entrance to denounce its forced Shabbat closure.
The 15-screen, NIS 125 million complex, located above the National Government Center parking lot, has been a lightning rod in the city’s religious tug of war since its owners were given a building permit in 2010 with the stipulation that it remain closed during the weekend.
That edict, issued by the Finance Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality to the private entrepreneurs who constructed it on government land, has led to a protracted and heated debate about the perceived religious polarization of the city.
Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Jerusalem Awakening), who has led multiple protests to persuade the government to keep the multiplex open during the weekend, arranged two separate demonstrations Tuesday – at noon and during the theaters official opening.
“We have been struggling against this for the last four years,” said Berkowitz during the noon demonstration, adding that his pluralistic movement has gained significant traction via the support of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy.
“One year ago [Lapid] said he would not insist on [Cinema City] being closed during Shabbat, but he hasn’t done anything since then to change this,” he said. “And because [the multiplex] is on government land, he has the authority to make that change.”
Noting several nearby businesses on government property that are open during Shabbat, including the Israel Museum and Science Museum, Berkowtiz said that keeping Cinema City operational during the weekend will not “disrupt the status quo.”
“The big argument is to enable Jerusalem to be a pluralistic place for all populations – to allow secular citizens and tourists to enjoy Shabbat the way they want to enjoy it,” he said. “Secondly, this is not near religious neighborhoods, so it will not offend the haredim [ultra-Orthodox] in any way.”
Moreover, Berkowitz said another variable making it important to keep the cinema open is the prevention of secular Jerusalem residents from leaving the city during the weekend in their search of entertainment as that would further exacerbate the capital’s already sluggish economy.
“There is a lack of places open during Shabbat, so we need to keep this open to give people the opportunity to not only live here, but to enjoy living here,” he said. “It’s good for Jerusalem and it’s good for the city’s economy.”
Citing that there have been several legal precedents where agreements between the government and entrepreneurs to keep businesses closed during Shabbat have been reversed, Berkowitz said he is hopeful the Supreme Court will follow suit again when it reviews his petition on March 12.
“Levy said today that he does not object to keeping it open, so we’re hoping that between him and Lapid the court will reverse the decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, Orthodox Jew Hanan Rubin, a member of Jerusalem Awakening and chairman of Young Adults Family and Students, said he strongly supports keeping the cinema open during Shabbat, despite his religious convictions.
“I believe that Jerusalem should be a city for everyone because it’s the capital of Israel and the Jewish world,” he said.
“What has held us together for thousands of years is that we have disagreed with each other but we stay together, and I’m afraid that if this doesn’t stay open we’ll lose people.”
Noting that the Talmud states that Jerusalem is the “umbilical chord of the world,” Rubin said the city must continue to provide world Jewry with the “unique formula” that has held Jews together for millennia.
“This formula is a combination of all kinds of Judaism – religious and secular – and if Jerusalem becomes one or the other, but not both, then it will fall apart,” he said.
Rubin said that despite his personal religious adherence, Jerusalem must remain pluralistic for its greater good.
“This is why as a religious person it’s important to keep the city alive, healthy and pluralistic,” he said. “I believe that everyone – secular and haredim – should be part of it. It’s the mixture that makes us strong.”
Orli Jackson-Cohen, an orthodox mother of two small children, echoed Hanan’s sentiments at the Tuesday afternoon protest.
“I’m religious and live a religious lifestyle, and it’s not easy for me to protest something like this, but I’m looking at the future and want to see a city open to all people,” she said.
Jackson-Cohen said she believes Cinema City has become a metaphor for that contested future, which is why it must remain open during the weekend.
“This is about Jerusalem having a place for everyone and not having to go to some other city on Shabbat to seek entertainment,” she said.
Asked to respond to the protest, the Jerusalem Municipality issued a brief statement Tuesday, citing multiple private theaters in the city that remain open during Shabbat as well as other planned businesses that will stay open during the weekend.
It added that it will continue to honor the stipulation of Cinema City’s contract with the city, but will also abide by any reversals made by the Supreme Court next month.