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Women With 'Right Morals' Seeking to Reinstate Single-Sex Swim Hours

By Gwynne Hogan | September 20, 2016 5:46pm
 The Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center offers inexpensive swimming.
The Metropolitan Pool and Recreation Center offers inexpensive swimming.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

WILLIAMSBURG — A group of Hasidic women are calling on the city to reinstate the full female-only swim time at the Metropolitan Recreation Center, after the Parks Department announced it would be cutting it from four days to two.

The swimmers have circulated a petition calling the limited single-sex pool time an "insult to women who still want to hang onto the right morals."

"We respectfully ask the Parks Department to restore at once the full hours that we previously had, to insure the health and well being of the community who have no other resource for recreation & health," the Sept. 14 petition states.

Orthodox Jewish women are forbidden by their religion to swim with men.

For Scheindel Kraus, 74, it is not just a matter of modesty, it's a matter of health and fitness.

"If not for the swimming I'd probably be rusty as a board," said Kraus, who has been using the pool since she moved to Brooklyn in the 1950s.

In the last decade the all-women hours have grown increasingly popular and sometimes swimmers have to wait in line for others to leave and make room, she said.

Starting Oct. 1, the hours will be cut from eight hours over four days to four hours over two days.

"It's going to be so crowded, I'll just have to stop," Kraus said. "I'll be devastated."

The written petition, which has not yet been sent to city officials, garnered around 300 signatures, according to organizers. It asks the Parks Department to give the all women swimmers back the eight hours they had a week.

The letter, comes after months of controversy that swept national headlines, when someone complained to the city's Human Rights Commission, which is tasked with enforcing the the city's human rights law that prevents discrimination by gender.

A group of secular swimmers at the pool called on the city to do away with the all-women hours saying Hasidic women were getting special treatment at the pool.

Then finally in July the Parks Department and the Human Rights Commission agreed to create an exemption to the city's law in order to allow for all-women swim hours at indoor public pools. Other pools can now apply for all-women hours if they meet certain qualifications.

But their July announcement, which was lauded by local politicians Dov Hikind and Stephen Levin at a press conference where no women were present, also cuts the women-only hours in half starting in October.

Now that the curtailed hours are about to take effect, women who use them are organizing to try to prevent that from happening.

Arlene Rosado, 62, who is not Hasidic, said the debate has focused too much on religion.

"Any female was welcome," said Rosado, 62, who joined the pool a few months back specifically for the all-women's hours. She said she has a degenerative spinal condition and she feels more comfortable swimming with women only.

"You're in that pool you realize this isn't a Hasidic thing. Someone who's never been there, they see more Hasidic than any other religion or race, they might take it as that interpret as that."

"There are black women, Arab women, Chinese, other Hispanic," she said, though she admitted, "There are a lot more Hasidic women than any other group. That's only because they're right here...it's convenient."

Rosado said it was frustrating that the city's Human Rights Commission and the Parks Department had made a decision without consulting the women who actually use the pool.

Community Board 1 agreed and voted to draft a letter asking the Parks Department to freeze the current hours until they can be discussed as a community.

"We have to be vigilant, at least given a chance to tell our side," Rosado said. "I hope that someone will hear us."

The Parks Department didn't respond to a request for comment immediately.