Last August, Sammy Kanter entered a pizzeria in Jerusalem with his HUC-JIR Year-in-Israel classmates and was refused service. It was a day after the Jerusalem Pride March, and Kanter was wearing a gay pride T-shirt with rainbow letters that spelled out “Cincy,” in homage to his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. An employee asked Kanter if he was gay, and when he said yes, told him to leave.
Refusing customers service because of their sexual orientation is illegal in Israel. Kanter filed a lawsuit the following month, seeking damages of 33,500 shekels, or about $9,100, with the assistance of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the social justice arm of the Reform Movement in Israel. Last week, a small claims court judge found in favor of Kanter and ordered the pizzeria to pay nearly $5,000 in damages.
"When this incident first happened, I couldn’t believe I was discriminated against for who I am in the place where all Jews are supposed to feel at home," Kanter said. "After going through the trial and winning, I now feel like I truly belong here, to know that discrimination based on sexual orientation is truly against the law. The outpouring of support from people around Israel, the incredible team at IRAC, and the outcome of the trial made me realize that Israel offers me protections for being gay that even the United States doesn’t offer. While this protection is in place, there is still a long way to go to make sure all LGBT people feel safe and secure in this entire country. I was proud to take the fight public to make sure businesses know this is not okay, and at the same time tell those who might be afraid to be who they are that it’s also celebrated in this land."
"I plan to donate money from the victory to IRAC to continue fighting for equality with religion, specifically for Reform Jews, here in Israel. I also plan to support the Jerusalem Open House in their quest to make Jerusalem a better place for the LGBT population, and the Aguda to influence LGBT rights on the political level. Thank you, Israel, for showing me that equality is a value of this country. I can’t wait to share my stories and pride with communities in the United States, and continue the fight to make Israel a more equal nation."
IRAC's director, Anat Hoffman, had this to say about the ruling: "We are proud of rabbinical student Sammy Kanter and his HUC classmates for standing up for equality and justice in Israel. They have used their time in Israel to prepare for the rabbinate not only by studying, but also by transforming Israeli society.”
After this academic year concludes, Kanter will continue his studies at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati.