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Manager one of Jerusalem's most popular cafés forced to shut it down after property owner agrees to renew rental license only if place becomes kosher, stays closed on Jewish day of rest
Noam (Dabul) Dvir
Jerusalem's Restobar, one of the most popular and well-known cafés among the capital's secular population, was shut down Monday after eight years of operation.
The business owner said he was forced to close it after the owner of the property housing the restaurant agreed to renew the rental license only if the place introduced a kosher menu and did not open on Shabbat.
Restaurant owner Shahar Levy told Ynet, "I have just experienced the nightmare of every business owner, shutting down my life's work. Three years ago, the property was bought by a haredi man who asked us not to open on Shabbat. We replied that it was impossible, and he dropped the demand.
"Now it's time to renew the rental agreement, and we held talks for three months during which he asked us not to operate the place on Shabbat and to only serve kosher food. As far as we're concerned that's impossible, so we preferred to shut down."
The property owner refused to comment.
Restobar, a café-restaurant located on Ben Maimon Street, near the prime minister's official residence, was opened in 2005. The place was previously occupied by Café Moment, which was targeted by a Palestinian suicide bomber in March 2002 in a terror attack that left 11 Israelis dead.
The fact that it was open on Shabbat and served non-kosher food turned Restobar into a hit among the city's secular population.
"Those who like to gloat will see poetic justice in the fact that we are closing just before Passover," said Levy, "because thanks to Restobar businesses are allowed to sell bread during Passover. We were sued for it and we won in court."
Jerusalem residents and organizations, led by the New Spirit movement, say the move which led to the café's shutdown stems from religious coercion and damages the weekend culture and leisure in the city on weekends. A demonstration was held outside the closed restaurant on Monday evening.
Movement officials said the protests would continue and that a mass protest picnic would be held on one of the upcoming Saturdays at Jerusalem's Independence Park.
"Jerusalem belongs to all of its residents, and this should be expressed in the city's restaurants and public cultural institutions as well," said New Spirit CEO Elisheva Mazya. "We regret Restobar's shutdown and we'll work to help and support the café owners and workers and Jerusalem's secular public, which lost an important social stronghold this morning."
The Jerusalem Municipality offered the following statement in response, "The Restobar is a private business. Naturally, the Municipality cannot force the owner of a private place to open it on Shabbat against his will."