Tel Aviv's Centennial Year Committee has ruffled plenty of feathers recently – first those of the homosexual community, whose budget for the city's 100th anniversary celebrations was drastically reduced, and now those of the ultra-Orthodox community.
Tel Aviv will be marking its 100th anniversary in April, and the city has launched a year's worth of special cultural events celebrating the city's founders, character, prominent figures over the years and, as it says in the centennial manifest, "the people making the city what it is."
The Tel Aviv Municipality finalized the sponsorships for the centennial event in mid January, lining up two major backers – the company that markets the city's "Easy-Park" smart parking cards and the AM:PM mini-mart chain store.
One of the scheduled events is a mass prayer rally, set for April 4, in the city's Great Synagogue, located on Allenby Street. The bottom of the brochure announcing the event, however, sports the AM:PM logo.
So what is the ruckus all about? The AM:PM chain is an all-hours chain store, and as such it keeps its stores open on Shabbat. Moreover, there is a store right across from the Great Synagogue, and anyone attending Saturday morning services cannot help but notice it.
"This may be a good time for the chain to rethink its steps and begin observing Shabbat, or at least make the gesture of closing the store on that particular Shabbat," said Rabbi Zvi Glassner of the Committee for Shabbat.
Municipal faux pas
"There is serious fault on the city's part by choosing the AM:PM as a formal sponsor of the centennial events. It doesn’t seem like the mayor of Tel Aviv is making much of an effort to keep Shabbat laws' guidelines," he added. "Religious and halachic issues aside, this chain is essentially breaking the law. It even came to them hiring Jews to work on Yom Kippur, virtually severing all ties they had to Judaism.
"It is a real shame that the City couldn’t show basic respect for the feelings of its residents and especially the observing and religious public. it could have chosen a different sponsor. I wouldn’t recommend an observant resident of Tel Aviv take part in any of the AM:PM sponsored events."
Mayor Ron Huldai's choice was opposed even within his own municipal coalition: "It is a disgrace that the city chose to use these kinds of sponsors for such an important event," said Rabbi Naftali Lubert, head of the city's Religious Council. "These people are desecrating Shabbat for the sake of financial interests."
Rabbi Lubert added that he had no intention of participating in the prayer service and called on Tel Aviv's religious public "to shun the service because of its sponsors. This entire ordeal is a disgrace and a show of inconsiderateness by the Centennial Year Committee.
"The AM:PM chain tramples on the labor laws and it's sponsoring a Shabbat event for nothing but greed… Having a company which openly desecrates Shabbat sponsor a prayer service is a spit in the faces of the observing public."
City Councilwoman Tami Zandberg (Meretz) was enraged by the call to shun the centennial events because of the chosen sponsors.
"There is nothing wrong with choosing AM:PM as the sponsors. It's not a part of any discourse. This is a delusional, benighted call. I'm not praising the fact the a commercial chain was chosen as a sponsor – I would have preferred to see the events sponsored by a cultural institute, and I, myself, oppose opening businesses on Shabbat because of social reasons.
"It is a shame that the rabbis cannot see their way to form cooperation on the matter and choose instead to hail obsolete messages," she said.
AM:PM offered the following comment: "The AM:PM chain and all 33 of its stores in Tel Aviv are an inseparable part of the city. Sponsoring the centennial events was a natural step."
The Tel Aviv Municipality added that "when planning the centennial events, we placed a special emphasis on the city's Jewish heritage. The three main sponsors were subject to severe scrutiny prior to being selected and were approved by the appropriate public and legal channels."