What do you do when you ask the local all-male volunteer paramedic team to add a women’s division for the comfort and privacy of local women and are told “No”?
Well, if you are Rachel (Ruchie) Freier, Brooklyn Civil Court Judge and Hasidic mother and grandmother, you go ahead and start your own all-women’s paramedic team.
What do you do if you hear about this amazing movement started by Ruchie and the controversy and flack it has been facing since it’s inception?
And what do you do when you hear about this amazing film and the fact that it’s going to be shown in NYC in the next few weeks?
Well, if you are me (also Orthodox mom of 3 if it matters), you reach out to the people behind it and ask them to give you some details of how this film came to be and when and where it can be seen.
And here is what I learned.
What Is 93Queen?
93QUEEN follows RACHEL “RUCHIE” FREIER, a no-nonsense Hasidic lawyer and mother of six who is determined to shake up the “boys club” in her Hasidic community by creating Ezras Nashim, the first all-female ambulance corps in NYC.
93QUEEN is set in the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn, where EMS corps have long been the province of men. Though the neighborhood is home to the largest volunteer ambulance corps in the world known as Hatzolah, that organization has steadfastly banned women from its ranks.
Now Ruchie and an engaging cast of dogged Hasidic women are risking their reputations—and, literally, the futures of their children—by taking matters into their own hands to provide dignified emergency medical care to the Hasidic women and girls of Borough Park.
With unprecedented and exclusive access, 93QUEEN follows the formation and launch of Ezras Nashim through the organization’s first year on the ground. The spine of the film observes the highs—and the lows—of creating an organization against incredible odds, as well as the women’s struggles to “have it all” as wives and mothers. In a society where most women don’t drive—and a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death—how do female EMTs transport themselves to the scene of an emergency? And how does Ezras Nashim combat a behemoth like Hatzolah, which possesses political clout not only in Borough Park, but throughout New York City?
In the midst of this already ground-breaking endeavor, Ruchie announces that she had decided to take her burgeoning feminism even further: She entered the race for civil court judge in Brooklyn’s 5th Municipal Court District.
Through it all, we see Ruchie & Co. grappling to balance their faith with their nascent feminism, even as they are confronted by the patriarchal attitudes that so dominate Hasidic society. As Ruchie observes, while making dinner at 3 a.m., “I sometimes wonder why God created me a woman. If I’d have been born a Hasidic man, I don’t think I would have half the problems I have.”
As I was perusing a Yiddish website, I came across a photo featuring Hasidic women in lab coats. In the accompanying description, I read about Ruchie Freier, a Hasidic woman from Brooklyn who was leading an effort to create New York City’s first all-female volunteer EMT corps, called Ezras Nashim, or “women’s help.”
While an all-female EMT corps is remarkable in itself, I was even more intrigued by the context surrounding Ruchie’s efforts and its implications in Hasidic Brooklyn.
As an Orthodox Jewish woman myself, I immediately understood that the formation of Ezras Nashim would be a significant cultural disruption to the gender-segregated Hasidic community. For decades, Hatzolah has actively prevented women from participating in their Emergency care corps and now made it known they were not going to make space for the women’s solution that is Ezras Nashim. But, these women were refusing to take to no for an answer.
Until that moment, I had never heard of proud Hasidic women challenging their community’s status quo; Their courage and persistence in demanding systemic progress—especially in the face of fierce opposition from the all-powerful patriarchy—is why I made 93Queen.
In many ways, the making of 93Queen mirrors the radical formation of Ezras Nashim:
In Hasidic culture, secular media is taboo and women typically shy away from any sort of public attention. In fact, Hasidic publications do not print photos of women at all. In addition to being overlooked by Orthodox press outlets, women like Ruchie and her fellow EMTs are seldom, if ever, given a voice in mainstream secular media. These women are universally shut out.
As a filmmaker and insider, who understands Hasidic modesty tenants and agreed to follow them in the making of the film, I was granted unprecedented and exclusive access to bring these women to the forefront through the David and Goliath story of Ezras Nashim.
Over four years of filming, I operated as a one woman-crew to subtly capture the highs and the lows of creating Ezras Nashim, from its inception through its launch, and, finally, Ruchie’s surprise run for Brooklyn Civil Court judge. The result is a rare documentary portrayal of observant Hasidic women … from their point of view.
My commitment to allowing minorities to tell their own stories extends to our music as well. The vocals interlaced into Laura Karpman’s masterful score are sung by Hasidic singer Perl Wolfe. Perl is the former lead singer of the first all-female Hasidic band, Bulletproof Stockings. Women are forbidden to sing publicly in mixed company in Hasidic communities, so Perl’s riveting and raw vocals literally give Hasidic women a worldwide voice. The vocals are a combination of traditional Hasidic melodies known as niggunim that are almost always sung by men, as well as an original song built with lyrics from a Jewish prayer that highlights the power of women. Perl’s vocals inherently reclaim another male-dominated space and serve as a “Greek chorus” for our story.
No one embodies the confounding dichotomy between tradition and modernity quite like Ruchie Freier. While toeing the blurred line between redefining traditional roles and merely updating them, Ruchie takes matters into her own hands to move her community forward — first with Ezras Nashim and then with her political campaign. Ruchie’s personal evolution from community activist to community leader presents a thought-provoking—yet challenging—model of progress.
Whether they recognize it or not, Ruchie and the women of Ezras Nashim have laid the groundwork for a lasting and sustainable change in the Hasidic community. And like women all over the globe, they have proven to be the most potent force their community has to combat injustice and fulfill societal needs.”
When was 93Queen first released and where can YOU see it?
After years of hard work, 93QUEEN World Premiered at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto on April 26, 2018 to a sold out audience.
The NYC premiere starts on July 24 and kicks off the theater run. It will be shown at the IFC Center from July 25 – July 31, with 4 screenings daily (12:55 PM, 2:55 PM, 5:00 PM and 7:20 PM)
. Tickets have JUST gone on sale today, and space is limited, so get them while they are still available! A special Q&A session with Paula Eiselt and Ruchie Freier will take place by the evening screenings July 25, 26 and 29.
The film will be released theatrically in select cities in US and Canada after the NYC run. It will also be in Israel later in the year. LA dates have already been set, from August 14 – August 23, A special Q&A session with Paula Eiselt and Ruchie Freier will take place on August 14.
For more ticketing info, cities and dates (as they are announced), check on their website: