Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday he was “surprised” to hear that Jerusalem’s new Cinema City complex, a multistory movie theater and mall, remains closed on the Jewish Sabbath despite the support his office expressed at opening the venue on weekends as well.
Lapid’s comments were written in a letter to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Israel Radio reported.
In response to Lapid, an official at the Jerusalem Municipality said that the Finance Ministry had signed an agreement with Cinema City’s owners under which the theaters and commercial area in the complex must be closed on Shabbat, which runs from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday. The official stated that the municipality was only upholding its end of the agreement, but added that if a new agreement were to be signed, the municipality would reconsider its stance on the matter, according Israel Radio.
Although Cinema City’s original contract with the city stipulated that the complex would remain closed on Shabbat, its owners said they feared that the theater would face unfair competition from a planned new theater at the Sherover cultural complex, currently under construction, which will be open on Shabbat.
In March, the Supreme Court ordered the Jerusalem Municipality to re-negotiate the contract with Cinema City in light of the potential competition, but ruled that for now, the site would remain closed on Shabbat.
The planned Sherover complex came to light after Cinema City had inked a contract with the city.
The municipality is opposed to the site opening on Shabbat, arguing that because the complex sits on public land leased from the city and the Finance Ministry, it must, like government institutions, remain closed on Saturdays.
The Jerusalem Cinema City, located in central Jerusalem across from the Supreme Court, is a sprawling 20,000-square-meter complex which comprises 19 theaters, two VIP rooms, conference halls, and a cultural center with a museum of Jewish film, a Bible-themed activity space and an indoor mall with 54 restaurants, cafes and stores. There are wide aisles in each theater, a massive concession stand and three floors of film memorabilia, photographs and statuettes of famous movie characters.
The construction of the complex, which also boasts free parking, was heavily backed by Barkat, who has spent a considerable part of his time in office reconsidering the capital’s cultural landscape, where the lack of a real movie theater complex — complete with comfortable seating, available parking and access from various neighborhoods of the city — was a real concern. Over the last two decades, many of Jerusalem’s movie theaters have closed.
Following an investment of NIS 250 million ($71 million) and 26 months of construction in the theater complex, the Cinema City owners said they expect to sell two million movie tickets each year and to welcome 15 million visitors during the first year. The Cinema City company sold 15 million tickets countrywide to movies last year, and expects to reach 17 million to 19 million tickets sold this year.
The issue of the theater opening on Shabbat has been a minor flashpoint highlighting the religious-secular divide in the capital, and in Kikar Safra, Jerusalem’s City Hall, with secular-leaning city council members taking a stand for the theater to be opened on Shabbat. However, many Jerusalem residents observe Shabbat and prefer that public spaces remain closed.
Barkat has said the issue is “very complicated” and noted that that “here are residents who want everything open on Shabbat and those who want it all closed.”
The owners, brothers Leon and Moshe Edry, said in an interview with The Times of Israel that there has to be fair competition, and if the Sherover theater complex opens on Shabbat, then “so will we.”
Jessica Steinberg and Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.