A new gym, exclusively for ultra-Orthodox women, has opened up in the conservative religious city of Bnei Brak – and the neighbors aren’t happy about it.
Since the gym’s owners, Sara and Yehuda Ganot, opened up shop, their cars have been vandalized, equipment has been stolen, posters smearing their venture have been put up, and the locks to the gym have been damaged.
Sara, who has been running a gym and health center for the last 10 years, decided a few months ago to rent a new studio and thus have separate spaces for men and women.
According to Sara, a slandering campaign took off and she and female gym-goers have been subjected to systematic harassment. The city’s residents are apparently acting in the belief that the place is immodest and increases the number of women in the street.
Children have been caught on security cameras trying to jam the locks of the gym entrance with chewing gum. They also stole the synthetic grass from the entrance and threw bags of rubbish on Sara’s car, damaging it.
“The neighbors began this violent saga against women in the (ultra-Orthodox) sector,” Ganot said. “Children throw stones, they print posters and distribute them to every woman who comes to register and train.
“The posters say that it is forbidden to work out at our gym. A rabbi who lives on the street says he is not prepared to accept a gym on the street because it will bring more women outside.”
The rabbi is Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz. He told Ynet: “The residents are opposed because it disturbs them.”
It’s not because you don’t want more women to be in the street?
“That’s incorrect. It disturbs the whole neighborhood. It does harm and we don’t want it.”
A few months ago, however, Sara and her husband Yehuda received a letter from Rabbi Karelitz stating: “I’ve heard that you are renovating the apartment on Bilu Street for a goal that is arousing great concern of spiritual harm to the families living in the area and their descendants.
“I’ve come to beg and plead for you not to do so,” Karelitz continued.
In the course of their battle the neighbors also approached the Bnei Brak municipality with the aim of forcing the Ganots to stop their project, claiming that it constituted commercial activity in a residential building.
Sara and Yehuda Ganot received a stop work order as well as an eviction notice. The two claimed in response that the apartment is on a separate ground floor and therefore they are permitted to use it as a studio.
The pair said that they tried to sort out the matter with the municipality’s engineering department. However, they claimed, the mayor of Bnei Brak informed them that he would not approve anything that would allow them to stay at the site.
According to the Ganots, the municipality is discriminating against them in relation to other businesses, after various different shops were opened in other residential apartments in the area over the past few months.
“Our neighbors have carried out various alterations without all the necessary permits, but the municipality is using selective enforcement against us,” Sara said.
Bnei Brak municipality responded: “An indictment was issued against Mr. Ganot by the local court due to his carrying out building works outside what is permitted, including turning a residential apartment into a gym which, by the way, has music playing and noise from the exercise machines during its hours of operation.
“Rezoning a residential apartment requires a permit from the local planning and construction committee. In this case the plan is completely opposed by all the neighbors. The gym also doesn’t have a business license as required by law,” the statement continued.
“By comparison, all the shops in the area have the requisite license.”