Set in Brooklyn, New York, the documentary “93 Queen” tells the story of a no-nonsense female Hasidic lawyer who is determined to create the first all-female ambulance corps in New York City.
On Feb. 9, Arts Emanu-El at Temple Emanu-El, in Providence, will present the film, as well as speaker Elissa Felder, who is a member of the Orthodox synagogue Sha’arei Tefillah, in Providence, and active in R.I. Chevra Kadisha.
The protagonist in “93 Queen,” Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, defies description, but is most certainly a human dynamo. In her own words, “The worst thing that you can tell me is that I can’t do something because I’m a woman, or because I’m a religious woman. Hatzolah [the men’s ambulance corps] says that we can’t be EMTs because we aren’t fast enough, strong enough, or smart enough. We can have babies every year, but we can’t be an EMT? Of course we can!”
It turns out that Ruchie Freier can do anything that she sets her mind to, including creating an all-female ambulance corps, Ezras Nashim, in Brooklyn’s Borough Park. At the age of 40, and the mother of six children, she became one of the first Hasidic women in Brooklyn to earn a law degree and open a practice. This past year, she gained fame as the first Hasidic woman elected as a judge in Brooklyn, where she serves in a criminal court.
Vitriol is aimed at Freier as she sets up the all-woman service. She receives an e-mail accusing her of lacking “values of modesty and tzniut,” the latter describing a set of Jewish laws insisting that people, especially women, behave in a way that does not attract attention.
Furthermore, many of the community’s men, and more than a few of its women, believe that the focus of a woman should be on motherhood. Freier and her group are accused of challenging the Torah and being “radical feminists.”
Freier counters that the most important endorsement comes from God, and she believes that they have God’s endorsement. She and her cohorts ask how a woman who has never even held hands with anyone except her husband can be expected to suddenly cope with 10 male EMTs seeing her exposed from the waist down.
One of the biggest debates in the film, and a cause of tension within the group, occurs as the corps gets underway. They debate whether to allow single women to participate. It is suggested that being married indicates that a woman is mature enough to handle being an on-call EMT. And some group members believe that accepting single women might give credence to Ezras Nashim’s detractors.
Paula Eiselt, an Orthodox Jew and the director of the film, said she built relationships with Freier and the other women during the filming, giving her access to their homes and training sessions as they built knowledge of how to perform CPR and deliver babies.
Freier and her group move ahead with their project, which is soon recognized by the New York City Fire Department and assigned the code “93 Queen.” In 2017, only three years after Ezras Nashim launched, the organization won both the New York State and New York City Basic Life Support Agency of the Year award.
PAM HANZEL is the chair of Arts Emanu-El.