New York Kosher Agency Says Document Showing It Targeted Lesbian Comic Is Forgery

Lesbian comic Leah Forster said her shows at two kosher Brooklyn restaurants were canceled over her sexual orientation

Comedian Leah Forster
Courtesy of Forster/ JTA

The lesbian comic who said her shows at two kosher Brooklyn restaurants were canceled over her sexual orientation said she obtained a statement from the local rabbinical authorities acknowledging their role in the cancellations.

The Vaad Harabanim of Flatbush, however, denied releasing the statement, calling it a forgery.

Late Thursday, comedian Leah Forster contacted JTA and shared a statement that appeared to be written on the Vaad’s official letterhead. The statement, signed by kashrut administrator Rabbi Tzvi Shaul Goldberg, said that a “single rabbinical kashrut supervisor” had cautioned one of the restaurants against hosting her performance, then called on its supervised restaurants “not to discriminate in any way against people based on sexual orientation.”

However, when JTA reached out to Goldberg on Friday, he denied signing the letter and referred to the statement as a “forgery.” He did not add any further comments. Two days earlier, in a statement to JTA, the Vaad Harabanim had said it never threatened to revoke the restaurants’ kosher certification. JTA reported the denial in its story on the cancellation of the shows published Wednesday.

On Thursday JTA and other news outlets reported on the latest statement. The following day, the Vaad denied issuing the statement.

“The issuance of this forgery is being reported to the office of the District Attorney of Kings County,” the Vaad said Friday morning in an email to JTA.

Forster said she initially received the letter late Thursday in a Jewish conversation group with more than 250 members on the messaging app WhatsApp. Forster said she did not personally know the user who shared it in the group but shared the user’s phone number with JTA.

When contacted by JTA, the user would not identify himself or herself, saying he or she did not have permission from a rabbi to use a smartphone. (Smartphone usage is frowned upon among some ultra-Orthodox Jews.) The user said that he or she had received the message in another WhatsApp group and did not know who had shared it there because names are not always displayed in such groups.

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Forster said that shortly after initially receiving the message, friends and people in other group chats also shared the letter with her. The Orthodox Instagram sensation Adina Miles shared the statement early Friday on Instagram, but would not tell JTA how she obtained it. JTA reached out to others who had shared the letter on social media but they either did not respond or directed JTA to people who did not respond.

Earlier this week, Forster told JTA that she had two New Year’s Eve shows nixed by kosher Brooklyn eateries due to her sexual orientation. In one case, she said the owner of the Garden of Eat-In restaurant told her that the Vaad Harabanim of Flatbush, its kosher certifying agency, had threatened to revoke its approval if it hosted the comedian. The incidents, first reported in the New York Daily News, gained wide media coverage.

Forster shared with JTA what she described as a recording of Chaim Kirschner, the owner of Garden of Eat-In, telling her that the rabbinical group told him that “you’re a lesbian and you represent that and we can’t let this go on.”

Kirschner did not respond to requests for comment by JTA. Forster said that Kirschner has agreed to host the event in his restaurant as originally planned.