J'lem Theater may be next battleground in ‘Shabbat wars'

Secular activists campaigning for the facility to open on weekends are "ready for a lengthy struggle."

jerusalem theater 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jerusalem theater 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While haredi protests over the Shabbat operation of Jerusalem’s Karta parking lot and Intel factory have ebbed, a new front in the so-called “Shabbat wars” may be opening up, and this time it appears to be coming from the capital’s secular residents.
An online petition launched last Friday calls on Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to open the Jerusalem Theater – a long-cherished municipal establishment – on the Jewish day of rest, and in five short days, it has already garnered more than 3,400 signatures.
“The liberated Jerusalem public demands that Mayor Nir Barkat open the Jerusalem Theater for cultural activities on Friday and Saturday,” reads an introduction to the petition, which has been sponsored by the city’s Meretz faction.
“The closing of [such institutions] on Shabbat constitutes a lack in the city, and is contradictory to the policies of developing culture and tourism that have been pledged by the city’s leaders.”
A statement from the Jerusalem Theater on Wednesday made clear that its management was not considering opening its doors on Shabbat.
But Shimon Bigelman, a Meretz activist and journalist based in Jerusalem who initiated the petition, told The Jerusalem Post that the decision ultimately lay with the Jerusalem Municipality, and that he and his supporters were gearing up for a fight.
“We’re ready for a lengthy struggle,” Bigelman said on Wednesday. “We don’t expect this to happen overnight.
“The Jerusalem Theater is a municipal institution, not a private one,” he added. “And just like Teddy Stadium, which is also a municipal building and operates on Shabbat, the Jerusalem Theater should and will have programs available on Friday night and Saturday during the day.”
By pressuring the mayor, Bigelman explained, he and supporters would wage a slow, but steady campaign, which would include, but not be limited to, the petition itself.
“I’m not going to elaborate on all of our plans right now,” Bigelman said. “But the enormous response the petition has generated just in the past few days, I think speaks for itself. I will say, however, that we plan on taking to the streets very soon, and gathering additional signatures.”
The goal, as is written on the petition, is 10,000 signatures, a target supporters may achieve by the end of the month, if signatures continue to be added at the current rate.
But even if support may be high and wide for the initiative, Bigelman said he was well aware of the potential backlash such a campaign might incur from the capital’s haredim, who, at the height of protests regarding Intel and Karta, resorted to rioting and physical violence to express their displeasure with public Shabbat desecration.
“Listen, if the Jerusalem Theater was in Me’a She’arim, we wouldn’t be doing this,” Bigelman said. “But our belief is that everyone should be permitted to live they way they choose – that goes for the haredim and it also goes for us.
“That’s precisely the difference,” he continued. “We aren’t going into the haredi neighborhoods and demanding that they do things on Shabbat, however, they are demanding things of us in our neighborhoods on Shabbat.”
Bigelman added that the campaign was begun not to fan the flames of religious tension in the capital, but to provide people with what to do on the weekends.
“You go to Haifa, Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba, and you can look in the newspaper and choose what you want to do on the weekend,” he said. “There’s a choice. But what do secular Jerusalemites have to do on the weekend? Not much, and you can see it play out, as scores of the city’s young people flock to Tel Aviv or beyond on the weekends just to find something to do.”
Bigelman’s sentiments were echoed on Wednesday by Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalou, who told the Post that he was firmly behind the campaign and was also prepared for the long haul.
“They might not open [the theater] in the next two months, and theymight not open it in the next year,” Alalou said. “But in the end, itwill be opened [on Shabbat] simply because there is a huge publicdemand for it, and this is a municipal building that belongs to theresidents of Jerusalem.”