You don’t need to know your fleishig from your milchig to enjoy director Paula Eiselt’s documentary about a small group of pioneering Hasidic women who form a “by women for women” volunteer EMT corps as an alternative to the all-male run Hatzolah. The film focuses on affluent mother of six Ruchie Freier, who already bucks tradition by being a practicing attorney in an ultra-orthodox community that doesn’t value women’s education or work beyond the domestic sphere. She is the leader of the women who want to be EMTs but were denied the chance to be a subgroup of Hatzolah. Through interviews with Ruchie and other women in Ezras Nashim, (which means “helping women”), it’s clear just how much opposition they face not only from the powerful Hatzolah men but also from the overall Hasidic community, where feminism is a dirty word. Continue reading…
93Queen resonated personally, because in college, I had a close friend convert from Christianity to Judaism through the Lubavitch Chabad movement. I had to learn a great deal about Hasidic practices and beliefs in order to remain a friend of this intelligent young woman, who was remarkably converting not for a marriage prospect but for her own spiritual sense of belonging. Although she wholeheartedly accepted the Hasidic community, I know she also took with her some more progressive beliefs about women’s roles in society. She, like Ruchie, has sought to help religious women have more access to education and medical care – all within the scope of staying true to their religious convictions.
I loved that Eiselt didn’t shy away from the obstacles the Ezras Nashim women faced as they attempted to launch their EMT group. They were taunted and gossiped about and Ruchie herself was targeted, with men in the shul even going so far as to badmouth her to her family and friends. There’s also a compelling ideological split between Ruchie and another early member of Ezras Nashim who had been an EMT before she was a ba’al teshuvah (someone who returns to Orthodox practices after a less religious upbringing). Ruchie believes only married women should go out in the ambulance, whereas single women (even if they are certified EMTs) should remain dispatchers and office volunteers, whereas
Eiselt never judges the Hasidic women featured in the documentary. They are portrayed respectfully. If anything, my one quibble is that Eiselt doesn’t explore some other controversies about Hatzolah – not only that it doesn’t admit women but that it doesn’t admit non-Jewish men from their larger communities that there have been ongoing questions about whether the ambulances really take (or respond to) calls from secular and non-Jewish (mostly black and Latino) neighbors. It would have been interesting to find out whether Ezras Nashim would take a call outside their community as well.
Overall, though, 93Queen is a feel-good movie about religious women who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and their persistence is wonderful to celebrate.