Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shady Ladies

The recent snowfall set off a different
type of storm at the Metropolitan Pool

This "ladies swim" thing at the Met Pool is plain ridiculous.

As you may know, the Metropolitan Pool has four sessions per week reserved for "ladies" only—Hasidic ladies, that is. That’s roughly a quarter of the available swim time. Truth be told, the official policy is that all women are allowed but no gentile will go there anymore because the Hasidim are likely to abuse and/or beat them if they try. Not very lady-like.

The word on the street is that this arrangement came about as part of a back-room deal between the Parks Department and the Hasidic elders. In exchange for partially funding the Pool’s 1992 renovation (the Hasidim claim they did, Parks says they didn’t), the Hasidim asked that several sessions be reserved for them, so their women could exercise without their modesty being offended by the presence of men. One shudders to hypothesize that this might be their modern-day version of a niddah. Of course, Parks could not officially reserve one of their pools for religious ritual, but they compromised by keeping the men out. The ladies themselves maintain the religious homogeneity on their own through bullying.

The ladies swim in their long dresses (which trail clouds of dye) and have a special technique for quickly swapping their wigs for bathing caps. They used to have their own Hasidic (female) lifeguard who they paid cash on the sly in the locker room at the end of each session. Parks closed this corrupt window and agreed to furnish a female lifeguard who is a Parks employee and certified life-saver.

Yesterday’s snow storm threw a monkey wrench in the works. Not surprisingly, the weather prevented the special female lifeguard from making it to work, leaving just the regular male lifeguard. This met water safety requirements but was unacceptable to the ladies and they demanded that the Met Pool request that the Crown Heights pool send over their woman. Obviously, Met could not commandeer another pool’s lifeguard. Undaunted, one of the Hasidic women called Crown Heights pretending to be from Metropolitan to ask the same thing. Smelling kvelte fish, Crown Heights rang Met back to confirm and the two were able to unravel the subterfuge. Perhaps they shared a laugh about it.

It’s silly and it’s ridiculous but most importantly it’s inappropriate. I’m sorry but there’s no reason why a public facility should be set aside for a single ethnic group. Can you imagine there being a session reserved for Sicilians or Puerto Ricans? Please. This episode does however illuminate how and why such an absurdity can persist. When the system doesn’t serve their needs, some people are willing to subvert it. You would be surprised what a gang of angry ladies can achieve, witness the French Revolution. But this was not about Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood. Quite the opposite.

I’m not sure which is more disgusting: this perversion of democracy or Meredith’s descriptions of the coat rack full of wigs with the furry hats still attached.

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