Wednesday, June 21, 2023

A Swim

(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.

I was told that some had previously requested female lifeguards.  When informed that there were none available, rather than abandon their exercise and enjoyment, a good number have kept on paddling. Given that I favor a liberal interpretation of Judaism's injunction to safeguard health and life, I'm supportive of their decision.

Across the pool from the lifeguard, sitting on the edge of the pool, were two teenage girls in those now in-fashion thong bottoms, their butts in full view of the lifeguard, me, and anyone else. They're (those bathing "suits") hard to miss.

On the lifeguard's side of the pool, sometimes sitting on the edge of the pool in the deep-end, sometimes taking a few laps, were two other young women in bathing suit tops and athletic shorts.  I suppose they would be characterized as the centrists or moderates in Zippori swimming pool women's attire.

And then there was us, a couple of senior Israeli American olim taking their laps in the continuing battle to stay (relatively) fit and ward off aches and pains.  Nothing at all remarkable about our swimming attire.  Strictly conventional.

At one point while taking stock of this scene and the trees, hills, and blue skies enveloping it, the Moody Blues' "Tuesday Afternoon" was playing on the pool’s sound system.  It is hard to overstate what a blessing this is.

Israeli restaurants, swimming pools, some shops, and other public venues seem to feel a need to play music where it would otherwise be perfectly peaceful and acceptable, even preferable, to have the sweet sound of silence.  Much of Israel, particularly the major cities, is a din:  horns honking, people shouting, sirens wailing.  Nothing is nice.

And to add ear-puncturing torture to unnecessary sound, the music, apparently chosen by young staff members, is often the repetitive drumbeat of techno: piercing, repetitive, and loud. (I know, I'm channeling my father.  Don't we all at some time or another?)

But whoever picks the music at Zippori is either older, or nostalgic, or just plain merciful. He or she repeatedly plays a soundtrack with the music from the 60's and 70's.  Stuff like the Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Animals.  You know--the good music.

At 1:28, I stuffed my goggles, my book, and assorted paraphernalia into my backpack and, at 1:29, I walked out the gate.  There was not a throng of women coming in.  There were a few Orthodox (or ultra-Orthodox), as well as a few non-Orthodox strolling in.

There were several women from across the religious spectrum walking in with young children in tow, obviously looking forward to a nice afternoon by the pool. Which led me to wonder what the young children in the care of their fathers who would like an afternoon at the Zippori pool do on the three afternoons it is closed to them?  Find another pool? Not the easiest or cheapest endeavor in Jerusalem.  A blow-up pool?  The bathtub?  Questions to ponder.

After our little swim at the pool, we headed for the supermarket.  Wow, was that ever interesting. . . .












  1. So well written, Alan--it was as if I were there!

  2. I loved living through your visual, thank you

  3. I was enjoying reading about the pool instead of reading about Israeli politics or the simmering Palestinian-Israel conflict, and then, in the blink of eye, you stopped at the supermarket. To be continued ? Did your typewriter run out of ribbon ;) ? Your column felt like a good summer fiction read based on non-fiction.

  4. Nice. Different than you're usual fare.

  5. Thanks Alan for sharing a piece of Israel.

  6. Love your writing, Alan. A wonderful taste of Israel (for better or worse). I'm glad life goes on in spite of the politics and the terrorism. To paraphrase what Benjamin Franklin said about the US which probably applies to Israel - Israel, a country if you can keep it!

  7. Quite a lovely sketch of your wonderful land.