Stirring up trouble

Stirring up trouble

December 31, 2009 16:33
macaroni restaurant 248.88

macaroni restaurant 248.88 . (photo credit: )


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Every Shabbat since it opened on November 1, the Macaroni restaurant at 28 King George Avenue has been the target of haredi demonstrators protesting the non-kosher restaurant's being open on Shabbat. Small groups of haredim, numbering between two to six demonstrators, stand on the sidewalk next to the entrance to Macaroni and, according to restaurant owner Erez Gans, yell at those going into the eatery. "I called the police and they came and did nothing," Gans relates. "The police told me that because there are fewer than 10 demonstrators, there is no need for them to have a permit. And since the demonstrators are in a public place - the sidewalk - and not physically blocking the entrance to the restaurant, they are not doing anything illegal." The Jerusalem Police Spokesman's Office told In Jerusalem that the police had received two telephone complaints from the restaurant concerning haredi demonstrators. "We responded by sending a police car both times. The demonstrators left, and so did the police. There were no other complaints." "The demonstrators scream and curse at those trying to enter my restaurant," says Gans. "Many customers don't want to come in. I don't blame them. People want to enjoy a meal in peace and quiet. They don't want demonstrators shouting at them and intimidating them. This has been a big monetary loss for me. I am afraid of financial collapse." Gans has no idea why his restaurant has been singled out when there are dozens of other restaurants in the downtown area open on Shabbat. "Macaroni is far from the religious neighborhoods. We are a very small restaurant, and we do not play music or in any way disturb anyone. There was a kosher restaurant on the premises before I opened Macaroni - maybe that is why they are demonstrating. I tried to talk to the demonstrators, but they would not speak with me. They told me to 'go to hell' and called me a Nazi. This really hurt because my parents are Holocaust survivors." Gans is receiving support from Hitorerut Yerushalayim, a movement of youth and others who support pluralism in Jerusalem. "We want Jerusalem to remain a city where many different populations can live side by side," says Merav Cohen, Hitorerut spokesperson. "Therefore, we are supporting Erez in his efforts to stay open. We come on Friday nights and do Kabbalat Shabbat at the restaurant. We have helped publicize his plight, and our members aid him financially by eating at Macaroni. The situation seems to be getting better. The demonstrators are quieter and they do not block the entrance or curse. They stand and pray. But this is still disturbing to diners trying to enjoy a meal. We hope our support will help Erez to continue because we do not intend to be at his restaurant forever." This past Shabbat, Gans says that things were better. Six haredi demonstrators showed up, but they only stayed for about 15 minutes. "I think they were on their way to the Great Synagogue," Gans says. "It was really an improvement over the past few weeks." "Macaroni is not the only restaurant open on Shabbat, but it is the the most recent and the demonstrators see it as a violation of the status quo," Cohen believes. "It is part of the changing face of Shabbat in Jerusalem. If the demonstrators continue to stand on the side and pray like they did last Shabbat, we will stop coming. But there is a real problem with the police not enforcing the law when it comes to haredi demonstrations. This is very sad because these demonstrations are causing real damage to business in Jerusalem." Rabbi Yosef Rosenfeld from the Committee for Shabbat in Jerusalem, an umbrella organization with representatives from Degel Hatorah, Agudat Israel and Shas, says that he does not know of any group organizing the demonstrations next to Macaroni. "The demonstrators were not sent by us. They go there spontaneously. Nevertheless, we are against the opening of this restaurant on Shabbat, as we are against the opening of any restaurant in Jewish Jerusalem." When asked why he thinks Macaroni has been singled out for demonstrations, Rosenfeld replied: "Because it is on King George Avenue. This is a main street of the city. No other restaurants are open on Shabbat on this street [a claim Gans says is not true]. Plus, 90 percent of the people passing on King George on Shabbat are haredim and find the open restaurant offensive." PROF. OZ Almog of the Sociology and Israel Studies departments of the University of Haifa sees four main reasons for the recent spate of haredi demonstrations concerning Shabbat. One, he believes that haredim can be viewed as a counterculture within the larger Israeli society. "The haredim don't read the secular press. Their press has a tendency to make a catastrophe out of issues. This helps their ratings," Almog says. Two, the election of secular mayor Nir Barkat over the haredi candidate has bred resentment, and some elements want to make the mayor's life uncomfortable. Plus it is a way of showing those haredim who didn't support the haredi candidate that they have brought this disaster of a secular mayor upon the community. Three, the haredim now feel they have the power to dictate the city's agenda. "This is a kind of 'creeping conquest,'" he continues. "Build a mikve here, a new synagogue there and haredim can move in. Protest Intel and the open of cafes and restaurants, and when they close more secular [people] will leave the city and the power of the haredim will increase even more." Four, the world economic situation is now very difficult. Groups like the Eda Haredit who live off donations are finding things very difficult. "They need to create a threat and demonize the so-called enemy so that there is a need to save the day by acting. This gets more donations," Almog explains. "My general position is that the secular are ignorant of the feelings and sensibilities of the haredi community and because of this, the police, courts, social services, etc. end up stepping on their toes, often without meaning to," Almog states. "But let's not forget that Jerusalem is a holy city and a haredi one in part. The beauty of the city is its historic and religious atmosphere, and the haredim are part of the city's charm and character. Let's have equal but separate and not have provocations. There is something very beautiful about Shabbat, and maybe there should not be restaurants and cafes open on Shabbat in this holy city. Maybe plants should be closed and no one should work. I think the secular public needs to consult with the haredi community if there is even the slightest fear that something will disturb the status quo. A lot of friction could be prevented if the secular were sensitive to the concerns of the haredi community. I also think we have to redefine what the secular and what the haredi sections are and let each community have its space without any fuzziness. This would prevent conflict," Almog concludes.

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