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Hasidic Women Fight Cutback in Single-Sex Swimming Hours in Brooklyn Pool

A group of Hasidic women is protesting against the Parks Department once again cutting back on women-only swimming hours at a public pool in Brooklyn.

In a new rule first reported by DNAinfo, single-sex swimming for women will be limited to four hours over two days a week starting October 1.

“It’s going to be so crowded, I’ll just have to stop,” Scheindel Kraus, 74, told dnainfo. “I’ll be devastated.” She has been using the pool since the 1950s.

The swimmers have started a petition calling on the Parks Department to reinstate the hours.

“The insult to the women who still want to hang on to the right morals, is very disparaging!,” they wrote. Adding that “the news was met with great disappointment and outrage!”

So far about 300 people have signed the petition that has been sent to city officials. They argue that access to the pool is important for their health, and that there won’t be enough opportunities to swim with the reduced hours.

The Parks Department said that the cutback in hours would “minimize disruption to other patrons (and) ensure maximum access for those who may desire these accommodations” in a statement sent to the Forward. “Sunday and Wednesday were chosen to ensure maximum access for those who may desire these accommodations.”

After a heated public debate over the practice of women-only swimming hours, the Parks Department agreed to continue the controversial practice but reduced the from seven days a week to four. Starting Oct. 1, the hours will be cut from eight hours over four days to four hours over two days.

The single-sex swim hours are unique to a pool in Williamsburg in the heart of Hasidic Brooklyn. They are used predominantly by Hasidic women, who are barred by tradition from swimming with men. Following the July ruling, other New York pools can also start female-only hours if there is demand.

The fight between religious law that govern Hasidic Jewish life and the city’s non-discrimination laws first started in June, when the New York City Commission on Human Rights raised concerns that the decade-long tradition of setting aside a gender-segregated swimming hour at a Williamsburg-pool could break city law.

Despite multiple complaints from civil libertarians and the New York Times editorial board, the Commission allowed the Parks Department a limited exemptions from the city gender discrimination rules to continue the women-only swimming hour at the Metropolitan Recreation Center.

“I’m just a very happy guy today, because they did the right thing,” New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who pushed hard to allow the women-only hours to continue, told the Forward in July.

The director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Rabbi David Niederman, told the Forward that the pool is especially important for Orthodox women, who don’t get excercise going to work like their husbands do. “Women are more homebound… Especially women who have a lot of children, that type of exercise [swimming] is very healthy for them, Niederman told the Forward in July. “Depriving that…it hurts.”

Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at [@lillymmaier]


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