Not Kosher? No Business: Jerusalem Eatery Closes After 8 Years of Operation

Owners shut down popular Rehavia restaurant rather than obey landlord's dictate to stop serving on Shabbat; secular residents of Jerusalem protest closure.

Restobar, one of the few restaurants in central Jerusalem that was open on Shabbat, shut its doors Monday after its landlord refused to renew the lease unless the establishment closed on the Jewish day of rest.

Shahar and Avigail Levy, the owners of the eight-year-old restaurant-bar located in Rehavia, announced the closure on their Facebook page Monday morning.

“It’s sad that in Jerusalem in 2013 there are benighted people who impose on others to accept a way of life that isn’t theirs by force ... and in one fell swoop erased the livelihood of some 50 employees and dozens of suppliers who were sustained by this business for many years.”

A demonstration took place Monday evening in front of the eatery to protest what organizers said was religious coercion.

Since its opening in January 2005, the nonkosher Restobar has been an attraction for secular residents. While at first, from 2005-2007, the place was closed on Shabbat, since then it has been open seven days a week and has waged a few legal battles over its right to conduct business as it saw fit in a city growing increasingly religious.

Several years ago the property on Ben Maimon Street was acquired by Laurent Levy, a French Jewish businessman who owns the international Optical Center chain. Levy has made a name for himself in Israel for making eyeglasses available to the needy at minimal cost.

Shachar Levy told Haaretz that the landlord had tried to get them to close on Shabbat in the past, but was persuaded to allow them to stay open.

“Now, when it came time to renew our three-year lease, he said, ‘I won’t raise your rent but you have to become kosher,’” which would mean closing on Shabbat, Levy said. “We tried everything; we even contacted Mayor Nir Barkat to ask him to intervene. We told him this was a secular institution and it would be a shame to see it close. But Nir said, ‘I can’t get involved in private issues.’”

According to Shahar Levy, the landlord “said in this messianic fashion, ‘blessing will come to you from the minute you close on Shabbat; it will do you good.’ Until the last minute we thought it would work out, but in the end, to our regret, we had to give up the site.” He and his wife have no immediate plans to reopen elsewhere.

Laurent Levy was asked to comment but no response was received by press time.

Following Restobar’s closure announcement, the Hitorerut Yerushalayim ‏(Wake Up Jerusalem‏) movement, which seeks to maintain the capital’s pluralistic nature, organized a protest and called on the municipality to assure that entertainment and culture establishments continue to operate on Saturdays.

Restobar’s closure “bodes ill for those who want Jerusalem to allow the entire public to live life as they choose,” the movement said in a statement. “The days when Jerusalem’s civil society accepts such things with equanimity are over. We’ll make sure that for every such closure, five new places will open.”

Emil Salman
Michal Fattal