“Helping women.” When asked to define their mission, these are the words that Ezras Nashim, the first all-women EMT service in New York City, chose to describe their groundbreaking work. In her award-winning documentary 93Queen, director Paula Eiselt gives us a firsthand look at the genesis of this group and the fierce women behind it.
93Queen provides a rare glimpse into the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, New York. Staunchly conservative and patriarchal, this community tends to discourage women from working outside the home, believing that a woman’s proper role is that of a wife and mother. As a result, female volunteers are barred from joining Hatzolah, a Hasidic EMT corps that serves Borough Park. This creates a problem for Hasidic women who, for reasons of modesty, prefer not to use male physicians. Often, women would resort to giving birth at home rather than calling an ambulance and being exposed to a strange man. With no other alternative available, the women of Borough Park banded together to create their own.
Spearheading the project is Rachel Freier. Though she is devout in her Hasidic faith, Freier never accepted the notion that women can only be wives and mothers. In addition to raising six children, she is a lawyer who, in 2016, was elected to serve as a judge in Brooklyn’s Fifth District court. Freier is no stranger to meeting challenges and defying expectations, and that fighting spirit becomes one of the most memorable features of 93Queen.
Equally inspiring is the director herself, Paula Eiselt. As a first-time director, Eiselt faced enormous obstacles to get her film out into the world. Initially, the project did not spark much interest either from producers or the subjects themselves. According to Eiselt, years of misrepresentation have made the Orthodox Jewish community skeptical of the media. As for investors, they were uninterested in stories of religious women who work to change their culture from the inside instead of abandoning it. By creating this film, Eiselt, herself an Orthodox Jew, has not only given us an inspiring picture of women combating prejudice, she also opened an opportunity for a marginalized community to tell its story on its own terms.