Splashing. Shouting. Laughter. With the DC-area humidity, which locals know all too well, swimming pools are a perennial gathering place to keep cool during summer days.
In DC proper, the Department of Parks and Recreation boasts 22 outdoor pools. Pools are located throughout the city, open five to six days a week with staggered off-days. Residents of the city need only to show ID to have access to these facilities.
Francis Pool, located at 2435 N St. NW,is a popular destination for DC’s Jewish community. Open Wednesday to Monday, the pool has three sections: a shallow pool with a gradual entry ramp for children, an area with two lap lanes and plenty of room for standing and chatting, and a deep end. The staff is accommodating, signing in for those who do not write on Shabbat and allowing strollers to go through a separate entrance so that all can participate in “Shabbat Pool.”
Allison Redisch of Northwest DC frequently makes use of the Francis Pool on Shabbat to cool off and meet friends. She likened the pool in the summer to the sukkah during the fall holiday. “One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Sukkot in downtown DC is that you get to know people who don’t daven [pray] at the same places you do. In that way, the pool is the same, but the pool is even better because it’s all summer long. It’s also nice to get to know people you have already seen at shul or elsewhere in a more casual environment,” she said.
Josh Nason, also of Northwest DC, echoed Redisch’s sentiments, adding: “Geographically, Francis pool is at an ideal location; you get some mixing between the DC Minyan, Kesher Israel, and Rosh Pina communities. [Also,] summer Shabbats are long, it’s nice that there’s a central meeting place where people can go for a few hours.”
Jordanna Snyder agreed. “The place to further relationships — you may have a casual talk or know vaguely who someone is at shul or kiddush, but the opportunity of uninterrupted time with this set cohort allows us to forget our usual social rules and groups and to transcend them ... The Francis pool has created its own type of minyan, and we are so grateful for it,” she said.
In the Maryland suburbs, the Bender JCC in Rockville boasts a popular pool. The “J” offers many services for swimmers, including designated lap swimming lanes and lap-only times; private and group swim instruction for all ages starting at 6 months; and pre-team and club swimming. Daily aqua fitness classes include aqua Zumba. For children, there is an interactive play area in a heated outdoor pool with a double flume waterslide and gated splash pad area.
According to Treva Bustow, Bender JCC’s chief marketing officer,and Susan A. Fischer, senior director of recreation, youth, and teens, the pool primarily serves families with young children, teens, and young adults. “[The specific draw is] the newly designed heated outdoor pool, while the interactive play area has been a huge hit with the younger swimmers. The splash pad area is secured with a gate, which gives parents of toddlers a stronger feeling of safety.”
“People feel safe,” said Fischer. “Rules are posted and strictly enforced. We deep water test all kids interested in using the lanes and identify these swimmers with a visible wristband and documentation on record. Fifteen minutes of every hour is a designated adult swim time, allowing parents to take their children to the restroom, give them a rest break, and rehydrate. The guard staff is familiar with the Center and our policies, and many are year-round employees or return each season.”
Rockville resident Matthew Peterson can be found splashing around with his children at the Bender JCC, taking advantage of the warm indoor pool in the winter and refreshing outdoor pool for the summer. “I love teaching my kids to swim at the JCC year round,” he said. “There are lots of water activities, like buckets dumping water and a mini-slide in the baby pool, to keep my not-yet swimmers safe and engaged. It’s been so rewarding watching my 4 year old gain confidence in the water with each week we swim together.”
While many enjoy the membership benefits of the large JCC pool, some prefer the amenity closer to home. The University Towers pool in Silver Spring, Maryland, is the place to be for residents and friends alike. Karen Yeshurun lives in University Towers and is a frequent pool user. “The pool at University Towers is a way for my children to get exercise and have an activity in the summer that is close to home while I am able to read or catch up with friends. It is a gathering spot for many of us in the Jewish community.” Not only does Yeshurun spend time with her friends in the Jewish community, but the pool also gives her a chance to meet people outside of the Jewish community. “[It] is a nice way of bringing people from different backgrounds together, especially on Shabbat. Many community members will host birthday parties, bring food and dinner to the pool, and share amongst friends in a relaxed environment. The children are occupied so the parents can actually have conversations with each other.”
Exercise and learning a skill are among reasons to swim, but keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones encourage returning to the pool day after day.
By Rachel Hellman
Rachel Hellman hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but currently resides in DC. She teaches kindergarten in Montgomery County by day and does Zumba or watches Friends reruns at night. On summer Shabbatot, you can usually find her at Kesher Israel in Georgetown or at the pool!