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Tel Aviv bars rebrand as synagogues to protest virus lockdown rules

Some venue owners are fuming that new restrictions will force them to close, even as dozens are allowed to congregate at houses of worship

Israelis enjoy sitting at a bar in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy sitting at a bar in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The owners of a number of Tel Aviv bars have declared their businesses to be synagogues, in protest of government lockdown plans that on the one hand will prevent all bars and restaurants from operating during the closure, while on the other allow dozens to take part in prayers at houses of worship throughout the country.

Channel 12 news reported on two Tel Aviv establishments, Kiton and Shishko, that have put up placards declaring them to be places of worship. The report notes that the two bars are currently treating the act as one of protest and satire and are not planning to rebel against government restrictions at this time — though they also aren’t entirely ruling it out.

Elad Dor, owner of Shishko, told the network: “Does it sound reasonable to you that you can bring 100 people into a synagogue, and I, who have a restaurant for 300 people can’t let even 30 people in? Does that really make sense to you?

“And does it sound reasonable that supermarkets won’t have gatherings? And convenience shops can open, and yesterday they said [Jerusalem’s] Mahane Yehuda Market can open? Give me a break.”

Synagogues will be allowed to open during the lockdown, which takes place as Israel marks three religious holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. According to government guidelines, prayers in closed structures will be permitted in groups of 10 people, with the permitted number of groups in a single location dependent on its size and number of entrances to the structure.

A synagogue divided with plastic sheets in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, September 7, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Critics have noted this could mean, in effect, that dozens of people could congregate in such spaces while many other, far less people-heavy activities are banned.

Meanwhile many small businesses, including leading restaurateurs, have threatened to rebel against the lockdown and open their doors to customers, saying they won’t survive the economic hurt of a new extended closure, and have little faith in government promises of eventual compensation.

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