Jewish N.Y.C. Politician Sparks Controversy With Gender-segregated Beach Days Plan

Chaim M. Deutsch draws both praise and anger for plan that would let Muslims and Orthodox Jews visit beach together on separate days for men and women

New Yorkers cooling off at the beach in Coney Island, Brooklyn. A new plan would make one of the area's beaches gender-segregated for two days this summer.
REUTERS

A Jewish councilman’s plan to hold the first ever gender-segregated beach days in Brooklyn has drawn praise from religious groups and criticism from secular New Yorkers.

Last week, New York City Councilman Chaim M. Deutsch announced two free beach days on his Facebook page – June 29 for men and boys, and July 27 for women and girls – at a city beach on the Coney Island peninsula.

“For many New Yorkers, including religious Jews and Muslims who observe modesty laws, there isn’t an opportunity to utilize our City’s beautiful beaches,” he wrote. “I’m excited to offer the chance for EVERYONE to enjoy!”

Deutsch represents several southern Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Muslim and Orthodox Jewish populations, including Midwood, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay. He also chairs New York City Council’s Jewish caucus.

The events are scheduled to take place at a beach that belongs to Kingsborough Community College, which is part of the public City University of New York (CUNY) system. Local media reported that Deutsch is raising private funds to cover the $400 cost of renting the beach on the two dates.

He told the New York Post last Wednesday that because the beach would otherwise be closed on those days, he is hopeful to avoid a conflict with the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state at tax-funded institutions.

“I have a lot of Orthodox Jewish and Muslim constituents in my district who have never been able to go to the beach before,” the Brooklyn Democrat was quoted as saying.

“They’ve never been able to smell the beach, to walk in the sand. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beach,” he added.

Many constituents and Jewish groups reacted positively to Deutsch’s announcement. The United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn called them “commonsense accommodations” on its Twitter account, adding that “every community deserve[s] recreational opportunities.”

Other stakeholders condemned the plan, though. “What chutzpah,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Post. “People don’t have the right to impose gender discrimination on a city beach simply because it’s mandated by their religion.”

In a Facebook exchange on Deutsch’s original post, one woman commented that she saw something similar in Tel Aviv and thought it was a good idea.

“This is not Tel Aviv or even close to it,” another man responded. “And if you want something like that perhaps go there?”