Shabbat closure of J'lem’s cinema sparks protest

‘This is a fight for religious freedom, not a fight against the haredim,’ says Awakening in Jerusalem vice chairman.

Awakening in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Awakening in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Dozens of young demonstrators on Wednesday gathered near the capital’s newest movie complex to protest the government decision forcing it to remain closed on Shabbat.
Cinema City – a 15-screen, NIS 125 million compound being constructed above the National Government Center parking lot that is scheduled to open in June – has become a lightning rod for debate since its owners were given a building permit in 2010 with the precondition by the Finance Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality that it remain closed on Shabbat.
Upon signing the permit for the 2,390-seat theater, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said, “The municipality is 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, according to members of Awakening in Jerusalem – the pluralistic, grassroots organization that organized the protest – mandating that Cinema City be closed on Shabbat will drive young people and businesses away from Jerusalem.
“Wake up Lapid and Barkat! We want our capital to be open to everyone – and for everyone to live as they see fit!” demonstrators shouted outside the building.
“This is a very important issue for us to decide to stay in Jerusalem,” said Awakening in Jerusalem volunteer Inbal Hoffman.
“The weekend is the only time we can spend our time as we want to – and for me and many others that means we need our cinema, theater, clubs and restaurants,” she continued.
“Most people leave Jerusalem after college because there’s nothing to do on Shabbat.”
Ofer Berkovitch, chairman of Awakening in Jerusalem, said the group gathered 7,500 signatures to protest the forced Shabbat closure of the theater.
“Cinema City fits very well for being open on Shabbat because there are no religious people living near here,” said Berkovitch.
“We’re not fighting with the goal of creating a big struggle in Jerusalem; we just want to provide an opportunity for people who want to go out [on Shabbat] the freedom to do so. That’s why we’re here.”
Berkovitch said Awakening in Jerusalem is actively working with an attorney for the municipality to have the High Court overturn the government mandate.
“We’ve had other experiences where the High Court overturned decisions like this one and we’re working with our legal adviser to achieve that here,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hanan Rubin, the vice chairman of Awakening in Jerusalem, said keeping the movie complex closed on Shabbat is a form of reverse religious discrimination.
“I’m a religious man and I believe that in the same way that I have a synagogue where I can enjoy a quiet Shabbat with my four children, secular citizens should also be able to enjoy their Shabbat doing what they choose,” he said.
Rubin emphasized that the protest is not against ultra-Orthodox Jews, but rather the Finance Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality.
“This is not a fight against the haredim,” he said. “It’s a fight for religious freedom.”