Wanted: Female Lifeguard to Rescue Hasidic Swimming Sessions at City Pool
WILLIAMSBURG — Just when the rest of the city is getting out their bathing suits, a group of year-round swimmers fears they’ll have nowhere kosher to do their laps.
Hasidic women who frequent Metropolitan Pool say they’ve stopped swimming the past two summers when their female lifeguard went on vacation throughout July and August and a male replaced her at the Bedford Avenue center.
“There are hundreds of women who come to the sessions,” said South Williamsburg resident Rose Herschkowitz of the women-only swim sessions. “When there’s a male we don’t come. It’s for modesty...A lot of women cut their membership to the pool because of the lost months of swimming.”
Herschkowitz, 57, who goes to the public pool three times a week along with her 86-year-old mother, said she and other residents had asked the city to find a female lifeguard replacement the past two years. But both years, no woman could be found to supervise the pool.
"We hope this problem can be resolved this year," said Herschkowitz at a recent Williamsburg and Greenpoint Community Board 1 meeting.
And her fellow swimmer Sarah Green said that if they couldn't swim at Metropolitan Pool, they had no other place to go.
"We already don't go to the beach," said Green of Hasidic women's custom for modesty reasons. "I've called every elected official and people have called 311 about this."
Local Council Member Stephen Levin said he had worked with the Park Department to install a female replacement, and that they had found a woman to fill in sporadically last summer but that it had been too inconsistent for many women to come.
"Women would call to see if the woman was on duty and by the time they got there the woman was off duty," he said. "There wasn't enough regularity... We want to make sure there's a shift that’s consistent and regular this year."
Levin said he was working with the Parks Department and the lifeguard union to find a female staffer.
The Parks Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Levin said he was working with the agency and with the lifeguard union to find a female staffer.
He noted that the issue had been "more difficult to resolve than you might think" due to city and lifeguard union rules that prohibit the Parks Department's mandatory assignment of a worker to a specific location.
But for Herschkowitz and Green, having a man on site was a blow to their custom and to hundreds' of women's healthy habits.
"A lot of handicapped women and seniors come to the sessions," said Herschkowitz, who claimed her mom had no other viable exercise option. "We rely on the pool."