Far too often the hasidic community is painted with a broad brush by the media, lacking nuance or showing the humanity of its inhabitants. Paula Eiselt’s documentary 93Queen does the exact opposite. It offers an up close and personal perspective of an ostensibly different world, yet one driven by human beings, struggling to make positive changes in their society, a notion that any film goer can identify with.
The film chronicles the creation of Ezras Nashim, Hebrew for “helping women,” an all-female emergency medical response team in the Jewish community of Boro park. One of the largest Jewish communities outside of Israel, Boro Park appears to be a place that functions outside of time. Men walk the streets bedecked in hasidic garb scrolling through the news feed on their smartphones. To an outsider, the society can seem antiquated, oppressive, and outright strange, yet the documentary provides viewers with a glimpse into the universally human struggles of the people that reside there.
The documentary follows Ruchie Freier (Jew in the City All Star), who made headlines in 2016 when she became the first Hasidic woman to hold public office, as she works with other women in the community to establish the female driven medical team. Yet, as with any meaningful change, the creation of the institution was plagued with constant controversy and opposition from all sides. In the hasidic community, modesty is a major focus, and a woman’s place is almost exclusively in the home, confined to the permanent role as a wife and mother.
This notion of societal roles is what provides the greatest challenge for Freier and the rest of the courageous women as it manifests itself in vicious internet chat boards, street confrontations, and even Rabbinical disapproval. Freier and her team of dedicated women put their reputations on the line as they attempt to drum up support for their organization, drawing praise from secular institutions while facing scathing feedback from their own community, eventually succeeding and forming the response team that is active this very day.
The story is one of not only breaking cultural barriers, but at its very core is one about persistence and holding steadfast to one’s values. The documentary makes it very clear that the women involved in this process and the formation of the organization were not involved because they felt “under-represented” or unfairly treated, but rather because they saw a need in their society in order to maintain proper treatment and protocols. Early on in the film, Freier informs the audience that Ezras Nashim is not about changing women’s roles as mothers and wives, but rather providing opportunities for observant women to be treated by other women, thus ensuring their sense of dignity by not having to make physical contact with a man.
Though some movie goers may enter the film expecting to see a demonization of Orthodox society, the film does a commendable job of presenting the Orthodox world for what it is: complicated, just like every other culture. People struggle with the roles that they are born into with many accepting their place as it is while others take a stand and contest with what they have been given. Yet the film does not depict a negative view of Judaism. Throughout the entire piece, the subjects are constantly praising G-d and expressing their love for Judaism. The truly incredible part about this story is the confluence of values at play. Those involved in Ezras Nashim do their best to preserve the dignity of all women while working within the confines of Halacha.
This notion is something unbelievably important in today’s day and age. Many Jews often feel that they have to choose between modern sensibilities and Jewish Law. 93Queen provides a different more nuanced perspective, presenting the viewer with a powerful message of hope where neither of these values have to be surrendered in favor of the other. Judaism espouses a concept called Pikuach Nefesh, an ideal whereby the preservation of human life outweighs almost any other religious concern. At a quick glimpse, this idea could seem simple and obvious, but it truly hammers upon the thoughts at play in this film, specifically doing what one knows is right and correct despite opposition from outside forces.
It is clear that there is still some progress to be made, but if the women of 93Queen are any indication of what can be accomplished when one sticks to his or her core values, then it is clear that change can be made. Breaking stereotypes is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself, and it is that dedication, a dedication to morality and doing the right thing that is going to drive positive changes going forward.