Jewish lesbian comic Leah Forster has alleged that Kosher-certified restaurants were bullied into cancelling her comedy shows by religious authorities because of her sexuality.
36-year-old New York comic Forster alleges that her planned New Year’s Eve show at Brooklyn kosher restaurant Garden of Eat-In was axed after local Orthodox rabbis launched a campaign to get her dropped.
A second Brooklyn restaurant, Orchidea, agreed to host the show instead, but also reluctantly cancelled after alleged threats to revoke the venue’s kosher licence.
Speaking to the New York Daily News, Orchidea owner Mazal Werzberger said: “I feel really bad. I really wanted to work it out… [but] I need to have the rabbi’s certificate. If I don’t have [that] I have nothing.”
Werzberger says that in addition to the threats to revoke her licence, she received “hundreds of phones calls a day” urging her to cancel the booking, after a campaign against Forster reportedly spread on WhatsApp locally.
The viral message says: “One of the performers is openly lesbian, is married to another woman and flaunts this way of life,” the message states. “Every part of this event is against halacha [Jewish law] and against every moral fiber of our community.”
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Leah Forster accused the group of operating ‘like the mafia’
Forster told the New York Daily News: “They operate like the mafia. If they pull your hechsher (kosher certification), you are screwed. They tell other places not to give you a hechsher.
“I never want to shove anything in anybody’s face. I don’t want to be remembered for being a trouble maker. I want to be remembered for someone who makes people laugh.”
“This leaves me feeling shattered for all the boys and girls in our community that have hopes and dreams that will be crushed by bullying and intimidation like this.”
— Leah Forster
In a Facebook post, Forster said: “I already paid for promotion, booked talent, graphics etc, and the funny part is never once have I spoken publicly about my sexuality so anything that is being spoken about is simply hearsay.
“This leaves me feeling shattered for all the boys and girls in our community that have hopes and dreams that will be crushed by bullying and intimidation like this, because they fear being shut down because of who they are. THIS is the reason why they lose faith, have depression…anger…and worse!”
Forster added: “[God] sees how hard I work to connect to him. I just wonder if the people that decided that it’s okay to hurt me financially and emotionally because of sexuality thought about where God comes in here?”
Leah Forster: I was ‘disowned’ by parents
The comic explained to NBC that she is no stranger to ostracisation, and was “disowned” by her parents when she came out.
She added: “I rebuilt myself a beautiful new life, I have a flourishing new career, I refuse to be a victim — I’m a happy positive person.”
Forster has filed a formal complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.