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Leah Forster just wants to put on a show.
But the comedian, who grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York, had not one but two New Year’s Eve shows in kosher restaurants canceled. Why? Because she’s a lesbian.
Forster first booked a show on New Year’s Eve at the Garden of Eat-In, a kosher restaurant in Brooklyn. But in late November, the comedian was told that the restaurant couldn’t hold the event because of her “sexuality.” In an emotional video posted to Instagram, Forster said the owner of the restaurant was pressured by local rabbis and his kosher certifying agency to not go ahead with the event.
“This really hurts,” she said. “It hurts me. I’m a resilient, strong person and I’m a good Jew… how is it OK to hurt someone’s business? I promoted it, I paid for advertising, I booked talent already.” Forster wrote, “The funny part is, never once have I spoken publicly about my sexuality, so anything that is being spoken about is simply hearsay.”
While Forster got her start performing within the Jewish community, her family and the ultra-Orthodox world have shunned her for years. She told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that she still performs for Modern Orthodox groups, but she is “done” with ultra-Orthodox audiences, adding that cancellations such as these have happened to her in the past as well.
The comedian told the Post she has received “tons of support” from people over the past 24 hours as the tale of the New Year’s cancellations – first reported in the New York Daily News – has spread.
When the show she booked at the Garden of Eat-In was canceled, Forster said she didn’t blame the owner of the restaurant, who is “receiving tremendous pressure.” Instead, she blamed the “bullying and intimidation” that many people in the community inflicted upon the owner and upon those in the community who are different.
Forster went ahead with a venue change, and booked a new show at the Orchidea kosher restaurant, also in Brooklyn. But several days ago, Forster told her online followers that Orchidea had also told her it would no longer host the event.
“It has become increasingly difficult to keep taking the high road when I keep being so personally attacked,” Forster said in a video posted on Friday. She said Orchidea had “assured me that they don’t care about bullying and they don’t care about intimidation – they want to host the event.” But one of the restaurant’s kosher certification agencies pulled its certificate, and the other one threatened to do the same – “so they had no choice.”
The owner of Orchidea told the New York Daily News that she didn’t want to back down but she needs kosher certification. “I need to have the rabbi’s certificate,” she said. “If I don’t have [it] I have nothing.”
Neither the Garden of Eat-In nor Orchidea responded to a request for comment by press time.
But Forster is still not backing down and is keeping her spirits up. She has found yet a third venue in Brooklyn that she has yet to reveal, but promises the show will go on as planned on December 31.
“It’s going to be bigger, it’s going to be better,” she said on Monday in an Instagram video. The event is being hosted by Adina Miles, aka popular Instagram personality “Flatbush Girl.” Tickets for the show – billed as a “once in a lifetime chance to see the show that Rabbi$$ are trying to cancel!” – are still on sale for $50 on eventbrite.com.
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