Paula Eiselt, a former Woodmere resident and an alumna of HAFTR, says she was surfing through websites that feature Jewish-oriented content a few years ago, when she came across a story about a new volunteer emergency medical response team forming in Boro Park. No, it is not a rival or a competitor of Hatzalah, because the work and accomplishments of Hatzalah volunteers are unique.
But Ezras Nashim founder Ruchie Freier, a chassidic woman, attorney, and now a civil court judge, believed there are medical issues a woman would be more comfortable sharing with a female emergency medical technician.
The film, 93Queen, is opening at the Independent Film Center in Manhattan on July 25. During that week, both Ms. Eiselt and Judge Freier will conduct a question-and-answer session with members of the audience. A few weeks after the limited New York showing, the film will be seen in Los Angeles, Toronto, and a series of other locations. 93Queen — the film title and radio identification of Judge Freier — will be shown to groups around the world and will be broadcast on POV, Point Of View Documentary Films, a division of PBS.
The 90-minute film, which cost $600,000 and six years to make, is both colorful and captivating. The story is told on two simultaneous tracks, featuring the proud, traditional chassidic wife and mother that Ruchie Freier is, as well as highlighting her fiercely independent spirit that leads her to found Ezras Nashim and run for a Brooklyn judgeship—and win.
As most are aware, by rabbinical decree going back decades, at the founding of Hatzalah it was determined for a variety of reasons that women should not serve alongside the men in a group that responds to medical emergencies in our communities. Whether you agree or not is a subject for a different discussion. The fact is that Hatzalah has functioned in an exemplary and effective fashion over all these years and there was no need to introduce any changes. The women in this documentary feel differently.
Eiselt says it is a combination of the shattering of the so-called glass ceiling and a manifestation of the #MeToo movement which has changed the way women think on many levels about a good number of issues, including creating a females-only version of Hatzalah called Ezras Nashim.
The film focuses on the obstacles the women had to deal with and the fact that many of the men in leadership positions in the community were not at all pleased with the development. There is one scene in the film where a number of women travel to upstate New York where word is that a prominent chassidic leader was going to endorse the group’s efforts. The rabbi, who is not shown on camera and is not identified, decides against the endorsement after their meeting. Afterwards, Judge Freier is heard saying, “We have G-d’s endorsement.”
From a technical perspective, this is somewhat of a breakthrough production. In a time where images of chassidic women—or any women—are not published in many of the newspapers and magazines circulated in these same communities, we now have a full-length feature film where chassidic women, and Judge Freier in particular, are the focus. Obviously, it is a bit of a contradiction, but that is the puzzling as well as trailblazing aspect of this presentation.
As far as Eiselt is concerned, producing and directing this film is important because it opens a window on a world that customarily functions mostly in secret. It is important to note that this is not a tug-of-war between Ezras Nashim and Hatzalah. All involved seem to agree that there is really nothing comparable to Hatzalah. The women in this group see themselves as an extension or even a branch of the type of service that Hatzalah provides to the community.
Eiselt points out that decades about Hatzalah was to have a women’s division of EMTs. That plan never came to fruition. So the formation and functioning of Ezras Nashim as depicted in this film is definitely about frum women standing up and seizing an opportunity. They say that there is an important role for women in volunteer medical care that should be dispensed by women for women. Others say that when you are experiencing a medical emergency, the number-one priority is receiving the proper lifesaving care and that everything else is secondary.
As Judge Freier says in 93Queen about why she felt compelled to form Ezras Nashim, “If you can’t join them, beat them.”