September 9, 2019  (Web Review)


(2018) 90 min. DVD: $89: public libraries; $295: community colleges; $395: colleges & universities. Women Make Movies ( PPR. DRA. Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmaker Paula Eiselt’s fascinating PBS-aired POV documentary centers on the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York City, beginning in Borough Park, home to the largest Hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish community in the United States. Founder Rachel “Ruchie” Freier, an attorney and mother of six, grew up in a culture with clearly defined gender roles, but she believes that religious women are as capable as anyone, although she must still have dinner ready every night no matter how hectic her day (her ultimate goal is to become a judge). In Hasidic culture, men can’t touch women other than their wives, which can potentially make medical emergencies especially awkward for all concerned (most EMTs are male). Freier decides to put together Ezras Nashim, a female answer to the all-male Hatzolah, Borough Park’s emergency medical service. Although she has no problem recruiting participants, the local men criticize her plan, both online and in person, using phrases like “radical feminist agenda.” And then she has trouble securing a rabbinical blessing, but still moves ahead, purchasing equipment, providing training, and forging critical alliances. Even so, internal tensions threaten to tear the group apart, not least when Ruchie excludes single women in order to appease detractors. Once the service is up and running, they face new challenges—including prank calls—but for now their future appears secure. Ruchie disavows the term feminist, but she is an impressive individual by any standard. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)