(Originally published in The Times of Israel)
The swimming pool at the Zippori Center in the Jerusalem Forest is a gem. A super-clean lap pool and a large children's pool with nice areas for lounging around, all with a view of the trees and hills of the forest, with the shiny gold domes of the Russian Convent in Ein Kerem and the sprawling helter-skelter of the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital complex.
And like much of Israel, it is a potpourri of sites and experiences, even when you're out just to get a little exercise and fresh air.
My wife and I went out to the pool Wednesday morning. After swimming my laps and flopping into a seat, looking up from my phone, five or six feet from me, on the stairs in the shallow end, clad in a fashionable black, apparently waterproof dress and head cover, was an Orthodox (or ultra-Orthodox--I've never quite figured out the official dividing line) woman.
First just her feet were in the water. The next time I looked up she was up to her waist. And about 10 minutes later she was all the way in.
Tuesday is one of the three days that is women-only. The restriction, made so that religious women can swim without men around, goes into effect at 1:30. I assume this woman would have preferred swimming in, shall we say, something more comfortable, but given that it was about 1:10 and I wasn't yet showing signs of packing up, and given that the pool looked beautiful, she decided to take the plunge, dress and all.
The woman's friend also wore the hair covering of an Orthodox woman, but she had on a one-piece swimsuit and evidently had no qualms about swimming in front of men or, since I was the only guy in the entire area, this one man. In between dips and dunks, they spoke what, to my untrained ears, was a North African-infused French.
The Arab lifeguard sat in his special chair mid-way up the side of the pool, smoking despite the plentiful "No Smoking" signs placed around the area. I’ve seen him and his colleagues enforce the prohibition. But I suppose when the entire attendance at the pool is about six or seven people, and when no one is anywhere near the lifeguard, privileges can be taken. Or, in short, you can get away with it.
That lifeguard, a man, will have remained there doing lifeguard duty for those two women and any others coming for a swim during the female-only afternoon. Even though religious women cannot swim with me there, they, or at least those who swim at Zippori, have decided they can swim with male lifeguards.