93Queen opens today at The IFC Center in NYC.
By Rachel M.
Like stories about underdogs who succeed in reaching their goal? Then the new documentary, 93Queen, is perfect. Set in the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, 93Queen follows a group of resolute Hasidic women who are attempting to create the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York City. Many ultra-Orthodox women would prefer to be serviced by another woman, and since women are not allowed to participate in Hatzalah, the Jewish volunteer emergency medical service, this new group seemed necessary, especially to its leader, Rachel “Ruchie” Freier. The initiative faced much objection from within the Hasidic community as women having public communal roles is frowned upon.
Producer and director, Paula Eiselt, herself an Orthodox Jew, follows the group of women as they work to establish the EMT corps against great odds. It’s inspiring to watch committed women who believe in their cause stand up to the “powers that be” and persevere to reach their objective. In particular, when they are unsuccessful in receiving the rabbinical approbation they desire, the audience can’t help but empathize with them. When they launch, we share in their joy.
The film focuses (perhaps a bit too much) on Freier’s lead role. She has become a well-known figure in New York, as a lawyer and mother of six who recently was elected as a civil court judge in Brooklyn’s 5th Municipal Court District. We get to see her family, her law office and her swearing in, in a bit more of a biopic approach than a typical documentary might have.
Freier and a few of the other women express that they don’t want to be told that there are things a woman can’t do. It’s a conundrum of sorts: so much of the Hasidic community is shut off to women, but Ezras Nashim (the name of the female corps) believes it has found an entree point to greater involvement that should be allowed. It’s more a matter of public opinion than Jewish law; however, opinion looms large in this community.
The film is unique as these women typically shy away from any public attention. In fact, Hasidic publications often do not print photos of women at all. Filmed over four years, Eiselt was clearly able to forge relationships and gain entrée that made these women comfortable. The result is a documentary portrayal of observant Hasidic women… from their own interesting point of view.