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Hasidic Swimming Pool Wars Rage in Brooklyn

Assemblyman Dov Hikind dove back into Brooklyn’s Hasidic swimming pool wars, sending a letter to the New York City Parks Department that demands it reverse a plan to limit women-only hours at the Metropolitan Recreation Center in Williamsburg.

The city Parks Department granted the single-sex swimming hours as an accommodation to the area’s Hasidic women, whose code of modesty precludes them from swimming with men. But it is slashing the women’s-only times from four hours to two a week starting next month, prompting a protest petition drive spearheaded by a group of Hasidic women.

Hikind lined up behind the push to restore the four hours a week.

“I respectfully request that the Parks Department not only restore the previous hours, but actually increase them to accommodate all women who wish to take advantage of the facility,” he wrote.

The latest back-and-forth extends the controversy over the program, which some see as a violation of the city’s gender discrimination policies and human rights credos requiring equal access for all to public facilities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, reliant on ultra-Orthodox votes and attuned to their concerns, released a statement then defended the separate hours as in the interest of women.

“We view this as a broader set of important guidelines that will ensure women and girls — in a variety of circumstances, and regardless of their religion — have access to safe recreation spaces in which they feel comfortable,” said Natalie Grybauskas, a City Hall spokeswoman, in a comment to the New York Times.

That compromise was at the time accepted by ultra-Orthodox leaders. Hikind told the Times it amounted to “a human rights victory for women,” in allowing them to swim in public while holding to their religious beliefs.

“This is not about Jewish women,” he added. “It was about understanding cultural differences.”

But Donna Lieberman, the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, denounced the move as contrary to the Constitution, saying:

“People have every right to go swimming in a gender-segregated environment pursuant to their religious beliefs,” she said. “But not on the taxpayer dime.”

Lilly Maier contributed reporting to this article.

Contact Daniel Solomon at solomon%forward.com or on Twitter @DanielJSolomon

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