Thursday, November 09, 2006

What's Wrong with a Little Accommodation?

Gym, Jews don't see eye to eye

Last spring, a local YMCA in Montreal installed four frosted windows in one of its exercise rooms to accommodate a neighbouring Hasidic synagogue and religious school. Its devout members complained that their teenaged boys were being distracted by the exposed flesh of women doing their Pilates, aerobics and other activities.

But now the windows have opened up a rift over whether the institution went too far to accommodate a minority. Some Y members have circulated a petition demanding the opaque windows be removed because they not only deprive the room of light, but allow a religious group to impose its ways on the majority.

“It's like getting us to wear a veil. Since we represent temptation, we're being asked to hide,” RenĂ©e Lavaillante, who started the petition, said yesterday. “We shouldn't have to hide in order to exercise in Quebec. We're a secular state, and shouldn't hide ourselves for religious reasons.”

Hey lady, if you want to show off, then exercise in the street.

The exercise room, located on the first storey of the Y on Park Avenue at the edge of Outremont, faces the back of the Yetev Lev [that's Satmar] synagogue and school, from which it is separated by an alley. The Jewish institutions also installed tinted windows on their buildings but members say they haven't been able to stop people from opening them or heading outside during breaks.

“We don't want our kids to be tempted by today's society,” community spokesman Mayer Feig said as he stood outside the synagogue, wearing the long black coat and sidelocks that are typical of his sect. As he spoke, a Hasidic woman pushing a baby stroller walked by in a below-the-knee skirt, thick stockings and wig.

“We have a belief in being dressed modestly, and we want our kids to see women dressed modestly,” Mr. Weig said. In summertime, Hasidic children head off to a camp in the Laurentians to avoid seeing scantily dressed females on the street, he said. And televisions are banned from Hasidic households. “There's too much violence and sexuality today, and our religious beliefs don't want us to see those things. We believe in protecting our culture and religion.”

The congregation Yetev Lev, or Good Heart, has been at its current location since 1985. The Park Avenue YMCA has been at its location for a century, but it was only during extensive renovations ending in 1994 that the exercise room was built.

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