Girls Forced to Wear Full Dress at Israeli Water Park Due to 'Modesty Concerns'

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Visitors at Chavat Etgarim, April, 2016.
Visitors at Chavat Etgarim, April, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

At a popular Passover holiday destination for Israeli families with small children, little girls were prohibited this week from riding an inflatable water slide unless they were fully clothed, while little boys were allowed on it in their underwear or swimsuits.

An eyewitness who complained about the gender discrimination was told by management representatives on the site that the separate dress code was meant to ensure the girls abided by religious rules of modesty.

The pop-up fun park, on the premises of the Kfar Hayarok school and agricultural community outside Tel Aviv, is not advertised anywhere as serving religious clientele exclusively. Known as Chavat Etgarim, the park is open twice a year — during the interim days of the Passover and Sukkot holidays — and is operated by a private company that leases the premises and charges for entry. None of the promotional material about Chavat Etgarim, published on many websites that advertise Passover attractions for children, mentions the swimsuit restrictions.

The eyewitness, who requested that her name not be published over concerns of repercussions at work, is not observant. “I saw this girl, about 9 or 10 years old, coming down the water slide in a bikini,” she recounts. “Suddenly somebody from the management came and told a young staffer who was sitting at the bottom of the slide that bathing suits weren’t allowed. Since I only have boys, I went up and asked him if the same rules applied to boys, and he said that boys were fine. I was absolutely shocked,” she said.

Although the majority of visitors at the fun park the day she visited were Orthodox, said the eyewitness, many of them arriving on chartered buses, there were also many visitors among the crowd, like herself, who were not religious.

Another eyewitness, who asked that she not be named, reported observing a similar scene. “There was a young girl in a bathing costume who was told that she had to put on her clothes because it offended the religious people, whereas the boys were allowed to dress as they wanted,” said the woman, a visitor from abroad. “I thought it was ridiculous.”

In addition to the water slide, the attractions at the park included a petting zoo, pony rides, trampolines, tractor rides and mazes.

Sagi Bar Noy, the director of Etgarim, said his company had notified the public on its telephone answering service that bathing suits were forbidden on the premises. When asked why no mention of the restriction was made online, he told Haaretz: “The decision to bring in an inflatable water slide was taken at the last minute because of the unusually hot weather, so we didn’t have a chance to update any of our information online.”

“This is not a public beach, and we insist on modesty,” he said, insisting that “it has no connection whatsoever to religion.”

When asked why boys were allowed to go on the water slide in their underwear, while girls were not, he said: “Whoever told you that is lying.”

Yoram Lavi, director of the visitor center at Kfar Hayarok and the person in charge of leasing the premises to Etgarim, said in response: “We object to all forms of discrimination. People need to know in advance whether there are dress restrictions and decide for themselves whether that suits them before buying a ticket. If Etgarim cannot operate by those rules, then we will no longer lease the premises to them.”

Lavi said Etgarim has been leasing the Kfar Hayarok premises for the Sukkot and Passover holidays for quite a few years.

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