Sammy Kanter, an American rabbinical student currently studying in Israel, was denied service at a Jerusalem pizzeria because he was wearing a Pride tank top. Kanter is now suing for damages.
A student at Los Angeles's Hebrew Union College, Kanter is spending a year in Israel as he studies to be a rabbi in the Reform Movement, reports Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The day after August's Jerusalem Pride March — which had already drawn ire from Orthodox rabbis who opposed rainbow flags being hung outside their synagogues — Kanter and his friends stopped for a bite at Ben Yehudah 2 pizzeria. However, after workers noticed his tank top, which spelled out "Cincy," a reference to his hometown of Cincinnati, in rainbow letters, he was not welcome.
"The guy behind the counter said 'Atah Homo (are you gay)?' I said yes. He said 'out' and pointed at the door. My jaw dropped, and he instructed my classmates and I to leave," Kanter wrote in a Facebook post about the incident.
Although Israel has a complicated relationship with LGBTQ issues, mainly due to the political influence of its religious right, declining to serve customers because of their sexual orientation is illegal in the country.
In September, Kanter filed a lawsuit against the pizzeria backed by the Israel Religious Action Center, which represents the social justice faction of the pro-LGBTQ Reform Jewish sect. He seeks 33,500 shekels, or about $9,100 in damages.
“This is an important precedent for Jerusalem,” IRAC Director Rabbi Noa Sattath told JTA. He believes the pizzeria's owner must be held accountable for the homophobic behavior of its worker.
The owner said that if Kanter is being honest about what occurred, he would fire the employee, but later claimed it was probably a misunderstanding and that the employee was trying to close and clean up before the weekly Shabbat holiday started, reports Israeli outlet Mako.
Sattath told JTA that the owner has refused to negotiate a settlement.
“Sammy is not interested in the money for himself. He is interested in the precedent,” Sattath asserted, noting that Kanter has suggested he would donate the damages to pro-LGBTQ organizations in Jerusalem.
The case, in which Kanter will be his own representation, is scheduled to be heard in Jerusalem Small Claims Court in January.
"I grew up being told Israel was the place where Jews could feel always feel at home, a country that lived our Jewish values, and a place that was a worldwide leader in LGBTQ rights," Kanter continued in his Facebook post. "My hope tonight, as I light Shabbat candles, is in the 52 other Jewish leaders I currently study with, hoping to make the world a better place. And the 80,000 Israelis who marched for gay rights last week."