Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, July 25:
Hot Docs 2018
San Francisco Jewish, Marfa, Charlotte Jewish
A driven woman faces controversy when she sets out to form the first all-female Hasidic EMT corps.
NYC’s Borough Park is home to one of the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish communities. When faced with medical emergencies, they turn to Hatzolah, a volunteer EMS corps made up of members of the community and sensitive to the religious laws that govern them. Hatzolah will not accept female volunteers, however, and that doesn’t sit well with Rachel “Ruchie” Freier and other Hasidic women. Aside from rankling their sense of fairness – there is no religious justification for keeping women out of the service, in their view – their primary concern is with female patients. They feel that women, forbidden by religious laws of modesty from being exposed to or touching any man other than their husband except in emergency cases, should be given a choice to be treated by other women. As a result, Freier and her followers found Ezras Nashim, an all-female EMT alternate. Eiselt’s film chronicles the David vs Goliath (or even Israel vs the rest of the Middle East) struggle for the fledgling group’s very existence, from accusations of a secular feminism plot to disrupt Hasidism to consequences for their families’ reputations. The focus stays largely on Freier, who already bucked tradition by becoming a full-time lawyer at the age of 40 in addition to being a wife and mother of six, as she navigates the cultural and religious minefield of her latest social activism. As a result, the film gives short shrift to other compelling Ezras Nashim members and to the corps as a whole when Eiselt follows Freier’s election campaign to become a civil court judge. While not entirely unrelated, the latter steals some of the thunder from the story of the pioneering EMT corps, whose FDNY radio designation lends the still-appealing project its title.