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An Israeli City Where Compromise and Division Swim Side by Side

It was one other sweltering Friday in Rehovot, a metropolis in central Israel, and Chaya Hitin and Odelia Tsaidi-Zommer every left their houses for a swim.

Ms. Hitin, 38, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, headed to a fancy the place she and her daughters might swim with out being seen by males or boys, one which closes for the Jewish Sabbath.

Ms. Tsaidi-Zommer, 43, a secular Jew, selected a spot the place she will be able to swim alongside her son and nephews seven days per week.

They had been, in actual fact, going to the identical swimming heart — one which caters to each spiritual and secular Israelis, and that in some methods embodies the nation’s deep disagreements in regards to the which means of a Jewish state and the position of Judaism in public life. It is a rift that partly underpins the bitter, ongoing debate about the way forward for Israel’s judiciary and the form of its democracy.

Roughly 45 percent of Israel’s roughly seven million Jews outline themselves as secular, in line with authorities information from 2018, and usually desire a society with Jewish character — marking Jewish holidays, as an example — however with a secular state. The ultra-Orthodox make up about 14 % of the Jewish inhabitants, and choose to dwell in line with spiritual edicts. Other Jews, unfold throughout a large spectrum of spiritual observance, are usually content material to be ruled by secular regulation.

Arguments recurrently get away over acquainted questions: What ought to be open on the Sabbath? (It varies broadly from place to position.) Should ultra-Orthodox males be exempt from army service in favor of biblical studies? (They are.) Who ought to supervise marriage, divorce and the regulation of kosher food? (The ultra-Orthodox authorities have that energy.)

And how do you run a public pool, which ultra-Orthodox teams need closed on Saturdays and separated by intercourse, and which secular Jews need combined and open all week?

Rehovot landed on a compromise, the type that illustrates the hybrid actuality of day by day Israeli life, during which Jews of various backgrounds discover fraught however purposeful widespread floor. The swimming heart offers Israelis two doorways: one on the left for the spiritual pool, the place males and women take turns swimming, and one on the best for secular swimmers, the place women and males swim collectively all week.

The two swimming pools, simply 40 yards aside and separated by a slender fence, are run by the identical administration of a united advanced, the Weisgal Recreation Center. On either side of the fence, mother and father sprawl on the grass, munching watermelon slices. Children paddle round on inflatable round floats, firing water pistols at passing adults.

“Honestly, it seems pretty amazing,” Ms. Tsaidi-Zommer, an artwork therapist, mentioned as her 3-year-old son splashed about within the wading pool. “It’s a lot more equal for both sectors.”

“I definitely feel seen here as a religious Jew,” mentioned Ms. Hitin, a payroll accountant. “It’s just nice to be with the girls.”

Religious distinction typically drives rigidity in Israel, not solely between Israelis and Palestinians, but in addition amongst Jews themselves. Those tensions have been deeply strained by the contentious push by the federal government, probably the most spiritual in Israel’s historical past, to cut back the ability of the Supreme Court.

The authorities’s push is partly pushed by ultra-Orthodox frustration on the court docket’s opposition to the army exemption and monetary subsidies for his or her group, identified in Hebrew as Haredim. The backlash in opposition to the plan is partly fueled by fears that, and not using a highly effective court docket to guard secular pursuits, Israel will step by step develop into a extra conservative, spiritual and patriarchal nation.

For months, the plan has provoked arguments amongst households and neighbors and drawn a whole lot of 1000’s of primarily secular Israelis into protests. The demonstrations have grown to incorporate a large swath of society, bringing scientists, businesspeople and army reservists into the streets. In flip, a whole lot of 1000’s of presidency supporters have often held counter-protests.

But in on a regular basis life, this friction not often ends in mass protests or frontal collisions. Secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews typically dwell in separate areas, with their kids educated in separate faculty programs, typically permitting every group to dwell by its traditions.

And in cities with combined populations, individuals make compromises — like at swimming swimming pools and bus stops. When a number of municipalities expanded public transit on the Sabbath in 2019, officers mentioned they’d taken care to position new bus routes away from spiritual areas and establishments. And in some instances, individuals actively embrace a fusion of cultures: Singers from spiritual backgrounds more and more play at secular venues to combined audiences.

“Israel’s polarization between two purported camps, secular-liberal and religious-conservative, conceals a third camp characterized by secular-religious cooperation and hybridity,” mentioned Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based tutorial who researches the subject.

Rehovot’s two-pool heart is a case research. While different cities invite the totally different communities to share a pool, Rehovot constructed two giant swimming pools in the identical advanced, every with a wading pool and picnic space connected.

The compromise was solid in 2015, when spiritual and secular residents provided clashing visions of how the middle — which beforehand had one pool — ought to be renovated: closed on the Sabbath and separated by intercourse, or open and combined.

Mayor Rahamim Malul discovered a method to thread the needle: one pool for every group, aspect by aspect. The further work raised the price by roughly $2.5 million, to $7.5 million — cash properly spent, the mayor mentioned.

“We’re living by a live-and-let-live principle,” mentioned Mr. Malul, an observant Jew. “I never want to be in a position where I’m compromising too much for one of the sectors.”

Compromise is essential in Rehovot, whose 150,000 residents come from an unusually numerous array of Jewish backgrounds. Fewer than 1 % are Arabs, in contrast with about 20 % in Israel as an entire. Roughly 1 / 4 are ultra-Orthodox Jews, in line with Mr. Malul — nonetheless a minority, however giant sufficient to require cautious mediation.

Mr. Malul’s family is an instance of this melting pot, he jokes: Of his seven kids, one is ultra-Orthodox, two are spiritual however not Haredi, and the remainder are secular. He himself as soon as belonged to an ultra-Orthodox celebration, however now represents Likud, the secular celebration led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The mayor and different metropolis officers should continually juggle pursuits.

Licenses to open on the Sabbath are granted to bars and eating places north of a selected road, however not south of it. A significant cultural heart will shut on the Sabbath, Mr. Malul determined, however a stadium will keep open. Despite secular resistance, a brand new synagogue will open in a largely secular neighborhood, however with solely two flooring as a substitute of 5.

To make these offers, Rehovot depends partially on a devoted mediation heart. Established in 2011, the middle has 50 mediators, who assist resolve a whole lot of group disputes annually.

They host feuding teams in non-public rooms, making an attempt to dealer truces between not simply the spiritual and secular, but in addition sparring neighbors and {couples}, and residents who disagree on the judicial overhaul. Before Israelis gathered for this 12 months’s Passover, the middle printed tips for households hoping to beat their variations on the problem.

“We have conflicts, we have challenges, and we are not hiding that,” mentioned Aviva Chalabi, the middle’s director. “But my message is complexity is part of our life.”

The pool compromise hasn’t made everybody joyful. Some ultra-Orthodox residents nonetheless don’t wish to swim in a fancy the place one part is open on Saturdays. Others really feel that the ultra-Orthodox group acquired shortchanged: The spiritual pool isn’t totally shielded from the solar, not like the secular pool, and the spiritual picnic space is smaller than its counterpart.

Among secular swimmers, there may be additionally an ambivalence about whether or not this type of resolution fosters a fusion of life or enshrines their segregation.

“I think to myself, ‘But wait,’” mentioned 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.”

But for probably the most half, swimmers are simply joyful to have a pool the place most individuals really feel comfy.

Yitzhak Katz, a spiritual 33-year-old, by no means realized to swim correctly till the spiritual pool gave him the prospect to train. On this Friday, he had include a secular pal who headed for the combined pool, whereas Mr. Katz stayed totally on the spiritual aspect.

“We disagree on everything — except that we’re best buddies,” he mentioned. “And we both love this pool.”


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