UPDATE (Dec. 25, 2013) Cafe Forte has regained their Kashrut status
The Clal Center (Mercaz Clal) on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street is considered by many to be something of an unseemly and large white elephant. But what most people don't know is that, in addition to its offices and numerous shops, Mercaz Clal serves as a sort of "messianic central" with a very active, top to bottom Christian missionary presence under the auspices of King Of Kings Community (KKCJ).
Mercaz Clal has recently become somewhat like "comedy central". The KKCJ affiliated Café Forte, located on the street corner level of Mercaz Clal, had opened less than 6 months ago. The cafe recently made headlines when a member of the staff allegedly tried to missionize the restaurant’s kashrut supervisor, presenting him with the new testament and other missionary materials. This reportedly resulted in the withdrawal of the Rabbinate's kashrut certification from the premises.
The current kashrut status of Café Forte remains sketchy. In the Jewish Press article on October 15th, "Missionaries Try to Convert Jerusalem Kashrut Supervisor - Lose Certification", it states that the kashrut certificate had been revoked. Yet by mid-November, the Yeshiva World News put a question mark on the revocation with headlines that read, "Yad L’Achim Complaint May Lead to Revocation of Kashrus of Jerusalem Missionary Café", reporting that it remained "unclear if the rabbinate may remove kashrus as a result of the missionary activity".
JewishIsrael recently contacted Binyamin Kluger, who holds a senior position with the counter-missionary organization Yad l'Achim, for an update on the situation. According to Kluger, Café Forte has lost their Kashrut certification and the management is in the midst of negotiating to get it back. At this time the proprietors of Café Forte have decided not to challenge the decision in Israel’s secular court system.
The Courts and Kashrut
JewishIsrael has reported in the past on clashes between Israel’s Rabbinate and the secular court system over the issue of kashrut. In 2009 JewishIsrael reported on a lengthy legal dispute involving Penina Conforti, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who owned a bakery and had her kashrut certificate revoked by the Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate's position was that an apostate cannot be considered trusted to adhere to the laws of kashrut. Conforti was told that her kashrut certificate would be returned if she agreed to employ a full-time kashrut supervisor who would be present at her store at all times. The rabbinate also wanted assurances that there would not be proselytizing on the premises.
The last we heard of the case was a March 2010 Supreme Court decision that the bakery must comply with rabbinical guidelines. However by Hannukah 2010 Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party came to Comforti's defense and put forward a bill in the Knesset seeking to remove the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s control over kashrut, seeking
to grant the authority to issue kashrut certificates to the Knesset. The bill was soundly in defeated in January 2011.
Café Forte may be a new venture but new testaments and proselytizing over coffee at the Clal Center are an old story. Rabbi Benzion Kravitz, founding director of Jews for Judaism International, relayed the following account to JewishIsrael:
"Nine years ago I helped a young college student Sammy return to Judaism from Christianity and helped him travel to Jerusalem to learn in Yeshiva. After about 5 months he called to tell me that he was confused because of conversations with the Israeli owners of a café he frequented for morning coffee, near his Yeshivah (near Davidka Square in the Clal building). The cafe turned out to be owned by a family of Messianic Israelis.
I flew to Israel to help him and ended up in a 5 hour debate in Hebrew with the father of this family. It ended with me asking for directions to Shechem to visit the grave of Yaacov HaTazadik. He insisted that as a multi-generational Israeli that I was wrong and he knew for sure that Yaacov was buried in Hebron. I played along and kept insisting I was right. Then I asked for his New Testament and asked if he really believed that every word was the inerrant word of God. When he said yes I turn to Acts 7:15-16 and showed him that it says Yaacov was buried in Shechem.
There was absolute silence except for Sammy who couldn’t hold back his laughter. He realized that he should not be fooled by their mastery of Hebrew and sense of conviction. I notified Yad L’Achim about this Café and the messianic beliefs of the owners. I do not have any firsthand knowledge of actions they took.”
Rabbi Kravitz Googled the location for us to confirm that his meeting took place at the Clal Center. Today the "Avram Bar" and restaurant is located in that spot. Yad L'Achim did confirm that this location was at one time frequented by messianic missionaries but could give us no information on the ownership at the time Rabbi Kravitz had this confrontation.
As of four years ago, missionary Ron Cantor was conducting regular video interviews at the Avram café. It is perhaps ironic and appropriate to note that just this week Janglo.net issued a Kashrut update from the Rabbanut which listed the Avram restaurant, at 97 Yafo Street, Jerusalem, as a venue which is "falsely advertising that they are kosher".
Getting back to Café Forte, there is yet another intriguing twist. It seems Joe Korson is actively involved with Café Forte and his mother is Esther Korson (A.K.A Eileen Dorflinger), a "messianic Jew" who was denied Israeli Citizenship in a famous High Court case in the 1970's. Dorflinger went on to become the proprietor of the Jerusalem restaurant "Ye Olde English Tea Room" which was granted a Kashrut Certificate from the Rabbinate, but Yad l'Achim issued a warning about the restaurant in June 2009.
At this time it is unknown whether or not Café Forte will regain their kashrut status. Those concerned about the growing presence of those proclaiming to be Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel should be aware that giving Café Forte business serves as a means of strengthening the Christian messianic mission in Israel. Such missionary activity and proselytizing is, regrettably, very much alive and kicking in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.