WeWork opened its first Jerusalem location two weeks ago and has appeased members of the city’s largest ultra-Orthodox community despite previous protests.
Haredi Jews were upset that WeWork members could work at the facility during Shabbat.
City councilman Yochanan Weizman of Haredi party Agudat Yisrael sent a letter to other city council members to unite a protest against what he called “mass Shabbat desecration.”
WeWork allows companies and entrepreneurs to rent desk spaces and offices, while also providing collaborative areas, kitchens, and networking events. Members have the ability to enter the offices 24/7, but WeWork personnel are not available during Shabbat or on the weekends.
“WeWork does not operate on Shabbat. We respect all of Jerusalem’s diverse populations and their traditions,” a spokeswoman for WeWork said. “WeWork aims to connect between people and cultures and our expansion in Jerusalem exemplifies our commitment to local communities.”
Ampersand, an ultra-Orthodox coworking space in Bnei Brak, restricts all access to its space on Shabbat.
Weizman said that after speaking with WeWork representatives, he sees no reason to protest over the company’s operations. He originally said that their facility was violating a municipal law and the “status quo,” which was established in 1947 when Agudat Yisrael received a letter from David Ben Gurion, who became prime minister one year later.
The “status quo” is the reason why most public places and businesses are closed in Israel for 36 hours a week, as well as Jewish sacred days.
Practicing Orthodox Jews avoid labor between sunsets on Fridays and Saturdays during Shabbat. “Labor” refers to any form of activity that someone is being paid for unless it is a religious function or emergency services.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said he is fine with WeWork’s operations during Shabbat and stated that the company is essential for technological growth in the city.
Jerusalem has plans for major economic development including a new business district, transportation hub, and a new campus for Mobileye, the city’s largest tech company that was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion.
Some remain unappeased with WeWork. For example, Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJC) founder Duvi Honig called for an international boycott for all WeWork locations until they prevented its members from using the facility during Shabbat.
Shabbat desecration is a common topic in the area. Just last month, many Haredi leaders called to boycott Israel’s national carrier El Al Israel Airlines to delay a flight from New York that would possibly conflict with Shabbat. The airline ended up rerouting to Greece.
WeWork’s Jerusalem location is the company’s ninth in Israel. Founded by Israeli-born entrepreneur Adam Neumann and Miguel Mckelvey, Neumann says that his family has observed Shabbat for two years and said that the more observant of Shabbat, the more successful the company will be.