Different Religions, Same Community Center
By: Andy Gao
Chaya Hitin, 38, is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who brings her daughter to swim without other boys or men. Tsaidi-Zommer, 43, a secular Jew, chooses to swim together with her son and nephews. They are heading to the same pool.
There are two main groups of Israeli people: religious and secular. Each group has its own beliefs and traditions. Leaders are finding creative ways to incorporate the two groups, including the Weisgal Recreation Center. In 2015, the community center was renovated with two divided pools for different belief systems.
Differences between religious sects play a major part in Israel’s domestic life. For example, these differences can cause problems for the government. The government, partly driven by ultra-orthodox communities, wants to reduce the power of the Supreme Court. However, that has caused recent protests by secular Israelis.
Secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews live separate lives independent of each other, allowing each groups’ traditions to be passed down within their community.
Rehovot, the town where the Weisgal community center is located, has a diverse Jewish culture and a small Arab population. Rahamim Malul, Rehovot’s mayor , has a family split between the two groups. He has seven children, with one being ultra-Orthodox, two being religious but not Haredi, and the remaining four being secular.
Due to the different communities present, city officials like Malul must compromise between groups and agree to the same rules. In Rehovot, licenses to open on Sabbath are only granted to bars and restaurants north of a specific street, but not south of it. A cultural center will close on the Sabbath, but a stadium will remain open. “I never want to be in a position where I’m compromising too much for one of the sectors,” Malul stated. (The New York Times, 2023)
Built on compromises, the community pool opened after residents with opposing views voted on renovations. A door and a small fence separate the two pools from each other.
Many people in the community are happy about the community center. “Honestly, it seems pretty amazing,” Tsaidi-Zommer said as her 3-year-old son splashed about in the wading pool. “It’s a lot more equal for both sectors.” (The New York Times, 2023)
However, the pool has received some backlash from the ultra-Orthodox community. They believe that their community has received the short end of the stick, as their pool is not fully covered from the sun, and the picnic area is smaller than its secular counterpart.
The renovations may be for a community pool but also inspire talks about national segregation.
“I think to myself, ‘But wait,’” said Ms. Tsaidi-Zommer, the secular swimmer. “What if this separation grows and expands into a full trend in Israel, where such recreational places become divided and open to separate publics? That scares me.” (The New York Times, 2023)
What everyone can agree on is that the pool has allowed both communities to get together and reach a compromise. “We disagree on everything — except that we’re best buddies, and we both love this pool,” stated Yitzhak Katz, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, and his secular friend. (The New York Times, 2023)