In Jerusalem, lesbian life partners Reut Cohen and Romina Gonzalez have faced threats and property damage from local ultra-Orthodox residents who are trying to shut down their restaurant.
Photo credit: Emil Salman
Even before the R&R Diner opened in downtown Jerusalem a month ago, the threats had already begun. “We will burn you down!” and “You won’t be here” were just a few of the declarations made by local ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) residents, in an effort to prevent the eatery’s opening.
If you’re wondering what could be so terrible about a new diner serving American-style food, you should consider that not only does R&R mix milk and meat (bacon and cheese), but its owners are a lesbian couple.
The diner is located very close to a synagogue and the Chabad house on Jaffa Road – the city’s main commercial street, on which until now there were no nonkosher establishments – and it’s also open on Shabbat.
The diner is a larger and more updated version of the Gaza 40 restaurant chef Reut Cohen closed in July. Her business partner also happens to be her life partner, Romina Gonzalez.
“The first time we tried to open was on November 19,” Cohen says. “Since then they’ve shattered our storefront window and have already dismantled the ventilating device that protects our workers from smoke exposure. The professionals are coming on Wednesday to fix it for the fifth, and I hope last, time.”
Since the vandalism was reported by the local Jerusalem media, it seems the protesters have assumed a lower profile. “Suddenly, they’re arguing it doesn’t matter that we’re a couple and it doesn’t bother them we sell pork,” Cohen says. “They claim the only thing that bothered them was the exhaust fan aimed in their direction. I should point out this is a very sophisticated exhaust hood with filters and silencers, so the only thing coming out of the chimney in the end is hot air with no smell and no smoke – so that’s just a cover story. The hot air rises up, so it’s clear they’re attacking us not because of the exhaust hood but because we’re a lesbian couple and because our place isn’t kosher, and it bothers them.”
According to Cohen, the police told her they have done everything they can for now. “If the police have done all they could, then it’s sad because they can’t really do much,” she observes. “It’s clear to me that this wouldn’t happen if two men owned the place and not two women.
On Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters participated in a demonstration outside the restaurant on Jaffa Street calling for greater police action over the attacks.
“My hope is that perhaps a large protest by people for whom justice is important will ultimately lead the police to do something,” Cohen says.
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