After more than a year of attempting to win Hatzolah’s consent to allow fully qualified women to join the Orthodox Jewish emergency medical service – so that the female EMT’s could respond to calls from women in the Orthodox community experiencing sudden childbirth or other health crises of an intimate physical nature – a group of Orthodox female activists has agreed to modify its agenda and instead establish a separate emergency service staffed entirely by women. Under the leadership of spokeswoman Rachel Freier, Ezras Nashim will utilize its own communications equipment and dispatch service to treat women in sensitive medical situations, while contracting with an outside ambulance service for transporting patients to hospitals.
In an exclusive interview with the Jewish Voice, Freier – a Chassidic woman and attorney who is a strong vocal advocate on various issues affecting the Orthodox community – explained that the leadership of Hatzolah was resistant to the integration of women into its ranks primarily due to concerns about a potential breach in tznius (modesty), as well as based on its contentions that women tend to have less physical strength than men, and that effecting such a dramatic change within the workings of Hatzolah could cause a delay in service. “I did not want to keep insisting that Hatzolah change its policy,” she said, “so when Rabbi Roth ruled that according to halacha it’s better for women to treat women in intimate situations – and when I realized that we didn’t have to purchase our own ambulance, which is quite costly – we decided to start our own emergency service.”
Noting that Ezras Nashim’s primary mission will be to assist women in labor and transport them to the hospital – a scenario that often results in delivery at home – Freier emphasized that all of the new service’s first responders will be trained doulas (birthing coaches). “The healthiest babies are the ones that emerge the quickest from the womb,” she asserted. “Some of the women who will be on the staff of Ezras Nashim have had their own babies, giving them an extra sensitivity to the matter that men could never have, while every responder will be experienced and professionally trained in performing deliveries.” Freier insisted that an emergency medical service exclusively staffed by women was something long-needed by the community. “We know of numerous cases where frum women felt embarrassed to encounter their male neighbor who had aided them in an intimate medical situation as a Hatzolah member,” the communal advocate disclosed. “With women caring for women, we will be protecting women’s tznius.”
Countering the possible perception that the new effort may be something revolutionary or particularly “modern,” Freier revealed that the Chassidic community of New Square has been operating a similar outfit for years. “The Skverer Rebbe was a pioneer in establishing an all-female unit within New Square’s existing Hatzolah service,” she marveled, “which adheres to the Rebbe’s tznius guidelines. The women of his community had voiced the same complaints regarding male treatment in sensitive situations, so he responded accordingly. When I met with him on this issue, he actually gave me the chizuk (encouragement) to go forward, even telling me that many of the top doctors nowadays are women.”
Freier told the Jewish Voice that Ezras Nashim will have a full medical advisory board, including Dr. Aren Gottlieb, an ob-gyn who works at ODA Primary Health Care Network in Williamsburg, well-known midwife Sally Mendelson, and an all-female group of registered nurses. The women who volunteer for the new group will be required to pay nearly $1,500 of their own money for an EMT class, medical kit, insurance and a cell phone. Freier expects that Ezras Nashim – which is to be funded entirely by donations – will be running as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit by next fall. “We have had an amazing outpouring of support from the frum community, and that includes both men and women,” she enthused. “In just one example, a man from Lakewoodhas come forward and generously donated an entire cell phone system to us.” Freier sees Ezras Nashim as a unique force that is already bringing Jewish women together around a common cause. “So many women who have never had the opportunity to use their medical skills in a volunteer fashion are asking us, ‘How can I help?’”