Paula Eiselt’s documentary, 93Queen, takes us into the world of the all-female Chasidic emergency volunteers, Ezras Nashim.
If you’re like me, you know a lot about the nuances of Orthodox Judaism and the sub-sects within it. If you’re not like me, you’re in for a treat. There’s a lot more to Orthodox Judaism than what you see in the movies. We don’t have horns and not everyone wears a black hat. Some Orthodox Jews work outside of their Jewish community while others will never leave their conclave.
The average American probably doesn’t know much about Chasidic Jews. To them, a Chasidic Jew is typically what they think of when it comes to Orthodox Judaism. There’s a lot of sub-sects within Orthodoxy with their own different nuances. Within Ultra-Orthodoxy, one should not touch someone of the opposite gender unless it’s their spouse or a sibling. The only exception, as the film tells you, is when a person’s life is in danger. Even then, there are those Orthodox women who want another women to help them rather than a man.
The Hatzolah organization is a volunteer Emergency Medical Service (EMS) organization. Unlike the average EMS, they only serve within Jewish communities. In these communities where no touching is taken very strictly, women want another woman to come to their aid. For example, let’s focus on the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park. Enter Rachel “Ruchie” Freier. The Chasidic woman and mother of six. A group of Chasidic female Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), led by Yocheved, reached out to the attorney for help. The Hatzolah volunteers in their neighborhood are traditionally men because women are forbidden. With Freier’s aid, Ezras Nashim was formed. Yitty, Yocheved, and Hadassah are just a few of the many members within the organization.
Forming Ezras Nashim would be a major accomplishment but Freier didn’t allow herself to stop there. She became the very first Chasidic women to be elected as a judge. This is very huge in a community where women are known to be teachers and homemakers. In their communities, women traditionally do not even learn how to drive! This doesn’t apply to all Chasidic women as there are those who learn how to drive. They aren’t supposed to be so successful at other things that are deemed to be immodest and disrespectful to their community! She doesn’t let the vitriol stop her from being successful. When Freier was honored as the Mother of the Year, her daughter’s school received hate mail.
“I sometimes wonder why God created me a woman,” Freier says at one point, while making a late night dinner. “If I’d have been born a Hasidic man, I don’t think I would have half the problems I have.”
This shows just how much of a gender divide there is within the Ultra-Orthodox conclaves. Paula Eiselt, the director, is an Orthodox woman herself. Having some kind of familiarity with Orthodoxy helps before venturing into this documentary. Women don’t traditionally have any kind of attention in public. forget all about watching anything on television that isn’t educational. Forget seeing a photo of a woman in a Chasidic publication. You have better chances of finding Bigfoot or seeing the Loch Ness Monster. These women just don’t have a voice despite all their best efforts. It’s unfortunate but it is what it is.
Freier is the likely main person on camera is because of the vitriol that the women face. Given the vitriol against them online, this isn’t a bad idea. There are unwritten rules in these Ultra-Orthodox communities that lead to films like Menashe being filmed in secret. It also serves to show how much control the patriarchy has in some of these sects. Volunteering to be an EMT risks their reputation in a community where women are wives and mothers. All they want to do is offer their help. Is this too much to ask for?
As the documentary crew follows the women and the battles they face, Freier decides to run for public office. What happens? Both the all-male Hatzolah and the Brooklyn Democratic Party team up to take her down. Hatzalah has such a stronghold in New York that they view such a strong woman as a real threat! Come on! It’s right there in the Torah where it says v’ahavta l’rayekha k’mokha (that you will love your neighbor as yourself, Lev. 19:18). This is one of the most important lessons in the Torah and perhaps the biggest mitzvah of all!
How better to send the message home than by having former Bulletproof Stockings singer Perl Wolfe complement Laura Karpman’s score. Bulletproof Stockings was an all-female Chasidic band. Because Kol Isha is considered a woman’s nakedness, men aren’t allowed to hear them sing. The feminist takeaway from the film is so strong!
For the secular community, 93Queen will offer a lot of fascinating insight into the Ultra-Orthodox Chasdic conclaves. No matter what anyone tells you, it is possible to be an Orthodox Jewish woman and a feminist.
DIRECTOR: Paula Eiselt
FEATURING: Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, the women of Ezras Nashim