Religious Extremists Threaten, Vandalize, Restaurant In Jerusalem Owned By Lesbian Couple

A lesbian couple in Jerusalem say they’ve been threatened repeatedly after opening a restaurant near a synagogue in the ancient Jewish capital.

The R&R Diner opened just a month ago on Jaffa Road, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. Since then chef Reut Cohen and her partner, Romina Gonzalez, have been told “We will burn you down!” and “You won’t be here” by ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredi) in the neighborhood.

There is also outrage over the diner being open on the sabbath and serving dairy and meat together, which is not kosher. But the threats escalated this month, when a window was smashed and an exhaust fan in the restaurant was destroyed.

“Before they broke our storefront window, I said I would not get into unnecessary battles with the surroundings or the authorities,” Cohen told Haaretz. “I hoped to give them another chance to prove there was someone to rely on. I particularly relied on the police to respond forcefully to our complaints about threats and vandalism. But if that doesn’t happen, I promised myself the gloves would come off and we’d fight with all our might.”

Cohen is frustrated by what she sees as inaction by authorities.

“It’s clear to me that this wouldn’t happen if two men owned the place and not two women… [or] if Arabs were doing the vandalizing, as opposed to Haredim. They would have been beaten, they would be caught red-handed committing the vandalism and they would have immediately returned the equipment.”

She plans to stage a large demonstration with local politicians, members of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, and other local organizations. Such a public display, she believes, will stir the police to be more active.

For now, operating without a functioning exhaust system is hard, especially for a brand new venue.

“The whole place fills up with smoke as soon as a single hot dog hits the grill, and that’s not how I want to host people,” Cohen says. “I hope people who visit will come back after everything’s fixed, so we can show why we are really here and, most importantly, that we are here to stay, that there’s a reason to stay.”

If she can resolve the problems with her neighbors, and make R&R a growing concern, Cohen hopes to turn it into the flagship of a new restaurant group.

“The future goal is to also open a bar in Jerusalem and a pastry shop, or a homey boutique bakery. As far as I’m concerned, the diner is just the beginning. The diner was the opening salvo for a new Jerusalem group.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.