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Three Times a Week

In her “Three Times a Week” series, Israeli photographer Ofir Berman takes an introspective look at a closed society seeking to maintain a leisure culture within the public space.

Three times a week, during the hottest summer months of July and August, the separate (gender-segregated) beaches in Israel open their doors to the community of Jewish ultra-Orthodox women. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays become colorful and enjoyable female gatherings, where men are prohibited and women and their children can bathe in accordance with their religious beliefs and strict rules of modesty. These beaches are partitioned on three sides by either sheets of white cloth or permanent fencing. Beaches where a group of rabbis come every year to determine they are indeed kosher and modest.

The separation, and the clear boundaries between the sexes in ultra-Orthodox society, bring into question the woman’s place as a separate gender, and awareness of female needs in the field of leisure. Today, as there is more awareness of the issue, ultra-Orthodox women also feel the need to leave the house and enrich themselves emotionally and experientially, without male supervision or external interference. This recreation at sea, on the separated beach, is an example of moments when women empower themselves and appreciate their own space.

© Ofir Berman
© Ofir Berman

The series also reveals the transformation that the beach goes through during the year – from a mixed open beach to a beach fenced off by rules. This contrast raises issues of cultural relativism and questions about the idea of freedom. Sendi, a native of Ariel and mother of 7 declares: “I choose not to visit mixed beaches, but I’m okay with secular women being at separate beaches. However, I am bothered when they wear immodest clothes at the springs in Israel. There have been times when my family and I went to the springs, only to find girls in revealing clothing. This has led us to turn back as it’s disappointing that they don’t opt for more considerate attire like shorts and tank tops. It’s hard to fully enjoy the nature we believe is a gift when these situations arise, especially considering there’s no gender segregation at the springs.

When I visit the beach, I make a point of wearing a modest bathing suit with tights and a skirt overlay, coupled with a shirt that provides adequate coverage. Ensuring that my attire covers my elbows and adheres to my values is essential to me. Our family follows a practice of segregation during beach visits, with my husband accompanying our sons and me taking charge of the girls. Although not without its challenges, this arrangement works for us. Interestingly, my husband, who grew up in Herzliya near the coast, refrains from visiting the beach due to the prevailing lack of modesty. As a workaround, we often plan our beach trips towards the tail end of summer when the crowds have diminished significantly. 

As for our beach essentials, I always pack a folding chair, a hat for protection from the sun, and most importantly, a juicy watermelon to relish during our outing״.

© Ofir Berman
© Ofir Berman

Riki, mother of 4, from Jerusalem also expresses her opinion on what should and should not be practiced in public spaces: ״I love the beach for its soothing waves and calm atmosphere, a break from the city rush. But what truly matters to me are the people, especially the girls. My husband feels the same and enjoys men’s days there. Getting ready means picking a comfy, long dress. I do feel a bit uncomfortable when secular women come to our segregated beach in bikinis but I acknowledge their right to do so. Personal choices should be respected. 

Notably, some women choose to engage in prayer while in the sea. However, I hold the belief that the sea isn’t a suitable place for such devotion. I advocate for prayer to be conducted at home before venturing out, as it demonstrates reverence and avoids potential distractions. Public spaces like buses or bus stops also witness such acts of prayer, which I find to be unsettling, as it tends to draw negative attention and lacks the necessary focus and intention.

The annual assessment by certain rabbis regarding the beach’s appropriateness is an interesting factor to consider. However, my focus lies less on their opinions and more on enjoying the beach responsibly, regardless of their viewpoints. After all, public opinions can shift quickly.״

© Ofir Berman

For more information on Ofir Berman’s work ,visit her website or Instagram.

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