A Jewish lesbian comedian in Brooklyn is still searching for a venue for her New Year’s Eve performance after local rabbis pressured the owners of two kosher restaurants into rejecting her because of her sexual orientation.
Leah Forster, of Brooklyn, first intended to hold her event at Garden of Eat-in in Flatbush, but rabbis, including Tzvi Shaul Goldberg of the Vaad of Flatbush, told the owner of that restaurant that its kosher certification would be revoked if it proceeded to host the event. Forster said rabbis pulled the same move when she tried instead to host the event at Orchidea in Borough Park.
In an interview with Gay City News, Forster recalled the moment she found out the first venue pulled her from its New Year’s Eve schedule.
“They said, ‘We have a problem because you’re a lesbian and what that would look like for the community,” she said.
Forster made it clear that she does not hold hard feelings toward the owners of the original host venues, and she noted in a December 5 Facebook post that those same people tried to accommodate her by searching for a new location for her event.
“It’s NOT them, it’s the system,” Forster wrote. “And there are parts of the system that have deeply hurt me. Simply for being me. DISCRIMINATION.”
It is not clear whether the restaurants will face legal issues stemming from the case. Forster said the city’s Human Rights Commission called her — she stressed that she did not initiate contact with them — and asked a series of questions about what happened, including whether or not she was an independent contractor, how the establishments cancelled her events, and the specific dates she was scheduled to perform.
“They said this is a government investigation on a business,” she said. “I made it clear I don’t want to sue.”
A spokesperson for the agency told Gay City News that it “does not confirm or deny open or potential law enforcement matters.”
Not all religious leaders in Brooklyn’s Jewish community share the same view. Rabbi Molly Kane, who is affiliated with the LGBTQ-friendly Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, told Gay City News that it was disappointing for her to hear about rabbis who “prefer a Judaism that is predicated on a narrow understanding of Jewish law” instead of valuing inclusivity and modernity.
“Jewish spaces need to be places where the LGBTQ community can feel welcome and be allowed to participate in the long standing Jewish tradition of telling jokes and making people laugh,” Kane said.
Rabbi Goldberg did not return phone calls by the end of the day on Tuesday.
Adina Miles, who is known on social media as “Flatbush Girl” and ran unsuccessfully for Democratic district leader in the 45th Assembly District earlier this year, is slated to serve as the host of Forster’s event, wherever it happens.
Miles is also taking a more aggressive posture than Forster toward the establishments that pulled their invitations, noting in a Twitter post that “People have a RIGHT to know that these restaurants are not places LGBT Jews can feel safe patronizing. That is a consequence of their actions.”
Miles also took a shot at the rules surrounding kosher certification by asking whether food should include a disclaimer noting “this product was produced in a facility by people who only have sex with people of the opposite sex.”
The duo still have an active event page for the New Year’s Eve event, dubbed “Leah Forster Live in Comedy! Hosted by Flatbush Girl,” even as the location remains in limbo.
“The show must go on! Once in a lifetime chance to see the show that Rabbi$$ are trying to cancel!” the event description reads.
Forster said she is “currently working on finding a new venue,” but is reluctant to divulge too many details out of fear that potential plans could be ruined for a third time.
“We have some options,” she said.
[Editor’s note: The original posting of this article incorrectly referred to Rabbi Tzvi Shaul Goldberg as Meir Goldberg.]