Nowhere do the distinctions between the “haves” and “have nots” come into play in my community more than during the summer, when residents seek to cool off a bit from the heat.

Many communities in Bergen County, NJ, where I live, have a town pool, which offers families a fun, safe place to swim and relax and amenities such as pools for both adults and children, a snack bar, and athletic courts. My town, Teaneck, has two public pools open to residents — an in-ground pool in the main public park, and an above-ground one at a smaller park.

Although it is well-maintained, there is only one pool at the in-ground location for adults and kids alike, with adult-only swims every two hours (i.e., kids must get out) in the afternoons and less-than-desirable changing areas for families. A summer badge costs $25 for adults, $15 kids, with discounts for those renewing badges. The deepest the pool goes is five feet, and no diving is allowed. The above-ground pool costs a mere $10 per user per summer and has no deep end. At the in-ground pool, a sign reads “No Breath Holding,” which is misleading, as it doesn’t appear to differentiate between normal underwater breath-holding and the danger involved when children compete against each other by holding their breaths for prolonged periods — and potentially blacking out. Other signs say “no curlers” or “cut-offs.”

Is there snorkeling gear to go with this sign?
Photos by Deborah Blaiberg

Then there is the Teaneck Swim Club. Amenities include three pools (a general swimming pool and diving area, a six-lane lap pool, and a kiddie pool with its own mini playground); basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts; locker rooms, including one just for families; a snack bar, and free wireless Internet access. That’s right, folks, free WiFi. To top it off, the snack bar sells many kosher items, members can store food in an on-site refrigerator, and local kosher restaurants routinely deliver dinner for those wishing to avoid the rush of running home to prepare a meal.

Current swim club dues are $430 per family each year, with a one-time $600 bond required for those who are weekend members.

Our family used to belong to the Teaneck Swim Club, which I thought would be a helpful social outlet for us during our first years in town. I also expected a bit more diversity. For one thing, I didn’t expect many typical Orthodox Jews to use the pool because of concerns over modesty — but I was wrong. The more “modern” among the Orthodox dress as they please at the pool, while more frum women sport oversized T-shirts or skirts made of spandex-like material. And during the Nine Days the club is basically dead, as observant Jews are prohibited from swimming during that period.

Empty for the Nine Days

I resigned from the club because my children were ultimately not interested in swimming, my husband was not available during the week to join/help me, and the kids were too young to play sports there. Why spend hundreds of dollars just to eat ice cream bars and chips?

While not deliberately racial, religious, or class-oriented, the tale of separate pools is only one symbol of the economic divide in town. There  have been calls in the past for more inclusiveness, and some Teaneckers do join neighboring town pools that are open to non-residents. I am spared the guilt of buying into that symbol because my children are not swimmers (although my younger son is trying real hard at camp!). Still, it’s a shame that for those struggling to make ends meet, there are so few options.