“Fasten your seat belt and let’s move,” says Hasidic Jewish woman Rachel ‘Ruchie’ Freier early on in 93Queen, and you would be wise to follow her advice. The subject of Paula Eislet’s fascinating documentary is a one-woman dynamo, a fiercely religious Jewish wife and mother who also happens to be a lawyer with a dream of becoming a civil court judge. Ruchie is also determined to set up an all-female group of volunteer EMT’s, named ‘Ezras Nashim’ (Women For Women) to serve Brooklyn’s closeted Hasidic Borough Park neighbourhood after the all-male force, Hatzolah, refused to allow women to join. Continue reading…
For Ruthie, this is absolutely unacceptable. With her female neighbours not allowed to touch any male other than their husbands and sons unless it’s a life-threatening emergency, she believes women should be able to choose to be treated by a female EMT. She’s not looking to replace Hatzolah, she asserts. She merely wants to offer a choice.
While over 50 women respond to the call for volunteers, a large proportion of the community take to the idea less well. Ruthie is accused of being unfaithful to her religion, of bringing shame on her family. She is the target of prank calls, hurtful letters and vicious internet comments. The word ‘feminist’ – which Ruthie flatly rejects until the film’s final to-camera interview, in which she acknowledges those who have paved the way – is used as the worst possible insult.
And yet Ruthie rises above it all with such grace and decorum that you can’t imagine a better person to assist in a medical emergency. What’s clear is that she doesn’t wish to flout Hasidic tradition; indeed, her religion is obviously deeply important to her. Yet she and the fellow members of Ezras Nashim believe that religious faith and strong women are not mutually exclusive, and their defiant determination to do what they believe is right in the face of such opposition is worthy of celebration.
Director Paula Eislet takes a measured, respectful approach, showing the highs and the many lows of being a modern trailblazer; particularly in such a secular, traditional environment.
Like all great documentaries, 93Queen – named after the call sign the city gives to Ezras Nashim when it is finally recognised as an emergency service – doesn’t just open the door to something usually unseen, it makes an audience feel privileged to be an observer.