Tuesday, May 31, 2016
In the insular world of Borough Park where feminism has its own context within the structured world of the large orthodox and Chasidic community, Rachel "Ruchie' Freier is an outlier and trailblazer.
But despite the respect she's garnered in the tight-knit community, her role in creating the all-women's volunteer Ezras Nashim ambulance company, which the politically-connected all-mens volunteer Hatzalah ambulance company views as a threat, make for an uphill battle as she runs for the open Fifth Municipal Judicial Civil Court seat in September.
Adding to this climb is Freier is facing a politically-connected Orthodox Jewish attorney, Mordy Avigdor, who has worked with both former Congressman Anthony Weiner and current Congresswoman Yvette Clarke as well with several large local non-profit organizations and has successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rounding up the judicial judge race is secular Jew, Jill Epstein, but the bench seat has traditionally gone to whomever carries Borough Park, likely a religious Jew, in a district that also includes Ditmas Park, Kensington and several surrounding areas.
"Ruchie Freier is a woman that bucks the establishment," said a knowledgable Kings County Democratic Party source who is backing Avigdor. "A lot of people felt her taking on Hatzalah, which is a crown jewel organization of the community, was an unnecessary provocation of an organization that's done a lot of good for people over the decades as well intentioned as she might have been."
The source also noted that Freier will get little support from the three big politicians of the area, City Councilman David Greenfield, State Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
Multiple sources said Greenfield is likely to back Avigdor. Felder said through an email that he doesn't endorse candidates with very very few exceptions and this is no different, that he will not make an endorsement. Some had thought, Hikind might back Frier, but his office told KCP through an email that he is remaining neutral in the race.
"Hikind would catch a lot of shit from the Satmars (a strong politically connected Chasidic sect) and Hatzalah if he decided to back her," said the source.
But counting Freier out of the race would be a mistake. She remains a religious woman, although going against the traditional grain for women of her culture in going to law school part-time and passing the bar while raising her six children.
"My mother always said, 'you can do anything you want as long as it's not illegal, immoral or against the Torah,'" she said. "My parents are very supportive and proud of me. Without parents like them, I wouldn't be where i am today."
While Freier remains a practicing real estate attorney, she first took on the orthodox establishment in setting up an alternative Yeshiva targeting young Chasidic men having trouble in the traditional yeshiva system. Dubbed B'Derech, this initiative is credited for giving these troubled teens second and third chances through GED classes and vocational programs.
While the patriarchal culture eventually acknowledged that B'Derech is a worthwhile organization that saves many at-risk youth, they resisted and continue to resist Ezras Nashim. Freier established the ambulance corps six years ago to service women that didn't feel comfortable with volunteer men from the neighborhood sometimes delivering their babies and providing other female-related emergency services, and then having to face them on the street or at a Shabbos meal.
"Sometimes I had to take on the establishment, but I did so always remaining within the community," said Freier. "My goal was to find a way to make it happen within the community. People have been trying to do an ambulance service for women for 30 years. I was warned to stay out of it, but I took my mother with me and we have a large group of volunteers now. Some are having babies and taking care of elderly parents."
And Freier has her backers of both the ambulance service and her run to be a judge, many of whom are orthodox women.
"Ruchie Freier is a woman who is an obvious impact person. She has dedicated her life to being there for the community and has a track record to prove that. She's a staunchly orthodox woman who stands by a moral code and gives to the community. She's doing everything a woman does, raising kids and bringing in an income and doing acts of kindness and charity," said Borough Park Resident Rachel Mayer.
"To have an orthodox Jewish woman as a judge in a community where there is the orthodox way of life, I think that would be something the people want," she added.
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