Jewish swimmers demand more women-only time at W’burg pool

Community Board 1 voted to ask the Parks Department to add three more women-only hours at the Metropolitan Recreation Center on Nov. 13.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

The city needs to cut back the hours that men are allowed to swim at a public pool in Williamsburg to accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, who are forbidden from bathing with men for religious reasons, civic gurus claimed at a meeting Tuesday.

Acting on the request of a group of mostly Hasidic women, Community Board 1’s full board passed a motion demanding the Parks Department set aside an additional three hours a week for female-only swimmers at the Metropolitan Recreation Center, because the current time slots are so jam-packed that one Williamsburger said she no longer allows her aging mother to use it for fear she’ll drown.

“My mom — who is hitting 90-years-old, thank god — she’s a Holocaust survivor and she has been in the Metropolitan pool for many many years, keeping her health and keeping her beauty,” said Esther Weiss at the civic meeting. “But now, due to the fact that they cut the women’s swim, she can no longer come because she’s in danger of drowning with other people bumping and shoving her — we do not allow her to come.”

The city-owned pool and gym at the corner of Bedford and Metropolitan avenues currently reserves the pool for women for an hour on Monday morning from 10-11 am, two hours on Wednesday from 9-11 am, and two hours for women and girls on Sunday afternoon.

The northern Brooklyn civic panel passed a motion put forward by its Women’s Issues committee to add an extra hour on Monday starting at 9 am and a two-hour slot from 9-11 am on Friday, with 22 board members voting in favor, four against, and eight abstaining.

The city has accommodated gender-segregated swimming times for decades to accommodate Williamsburg’s large Hasidic community, which forbids women from swimming with men under Jewish law.

The St. John’s Recreation Center Pool in Crown Heights — another neighborhood with a large Hasidic community — also has one two-hour slot for women swimming.

The Parks Department briefly eliminated the female-only hours after an anonymous complaint prompted a review by the city’s Human Rights Commission in 2016.

The investigation found the policy to be in violation of the city’s human rights law, which forbids gender discrimination in public buildings, but bureaucrats allowed for an exemption after Parks honchos proposed cutting back the women’s hours and axing the men’s-only block at the Crown Heights facility, according to a New York Times report.

New Yorkers can still use all city-owned single-sex facilities that most closely align with their gender identity, according to a 2016 decree by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

One board member and LGBTQ advocate slammed the policy — which has previously also been condemned by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times Editorial Board — because it doesn’t account for Brooklynites that don’t identify with the gender binary.

“This is not a progressive policy,” said Thomas Burrows, a member of the LGBTQ political club the Lambda Independent Democrats. “Gender-segregated public areas such as locker rooms and rest rooms pose a significant hurdle. By definition these spaces exclude people who do not identify with either gender or have experienced trauma in such spaces.”

But the head of the Women’s Issue committee argued that the gendered swimming time is for women of various backgrounds who feel more comfortable without men in the pool.

“We’re a community that has a huge population of Jewish, Muslim, and older people who really feel that they are too modest to be able to swim,” said Jan Peterson.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said the agency does not plan to extend the current hours. 

“Currently we have no plans to further expand women’s only swimming at any of our centers,” said Charisse Hill in an emailed statement.