Hundreds protest J'lem Cinema City Shabbat closure

Haredi demonstrator: 30% of ultra-Orthodox community supports religious freedom.

May 5, 2013 03:22
2 minute read.
Cinema city in Rishon Lezion

Cinema city 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Nearly 500 demonstrators gathered outside the Jerusalem Municipality in Safra Square Saturday night to again protest the government’s decision to force the capital’s newest and largest movie complex to remain closed on Shabbat.

Cinema City, a 15-screen, NIS 125 million compound being constructed above the National Government Center parking lot, has become a lightning rod for debate since its owners were given a building permit in 2010. The permit was accompanied by a stipulation from the municipality and the Finance Ministry that it remain closed on Shabbat.

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It is scheduled to open for business this summer.

Ofer Berkovitch, who led Saturday’s protest and a similar one in April, said he was pleased by the strong turnout.

He was particularly heartened, he said, by the support of a handful of haredi protesters he claimed supported religious freedom in the capital.

“This demonstration tonight showed that it was very important to the people of Jerusalem that Cinema City should be open on Shabbat,” said Berkovitch, who chairs a pro-pluralism group calling itself Awakening in Jerusalem. “It was especially significant that a few members of the haredi community joined us as well, and said 30 percent [of them] wouldn’t object to Cinema City being open [on the Sabbath].”

He emphasized that the protests were for freedom of religion and not against haredim.

He added that one haredi protester who attended Saturday’s demonstration but declined to be interviewed had said he hoped to work with the NGO to ensure secular freedom.

“We keep saying all the time that we want to work with religious groups to come to an agreement [on this matter],” Berkovitch said. “The possibility of cooperation between the haredim and [secular Jews] shows that people want to change this situation so that everyone’s rights are respected.”

Upon signing the permit for the 2,390- seat theater, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the municipality was “investing enormous resources in transforming the city into a cultural and entertainment capital so that it will attract and draw young people, tourists, and businesses.” However, members of Awakening in Jerusalem continue to argue that keeping Cinema City closed on Shabbat will drive young people and businesses away from the capital.

Aviad Gispan, who attended the protest, summarized this sentiment.

“Shabbat is my only holiday and I want to live in Jerusalem,” he said, “but I also want to enjoy it the way that I choose.”

Berkovitch added that he was hopeful the matter would be resolved in the coming weeks. If the High Court of Justice does not rescind the mandate, however, he said he would pursue legal action against the municipality and the Finance Ministry.

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