Friday, December 23, 2016

First Hasidic woman judge sworn in with Yiddish song 

's not every day that you hear "God Bless America" sung in Yiddish, especially in a United States' court. But then again, December 22, 2016, was unlike any other day. It was the first time in history that a Hasidic woman was sworn into elected public office in the US, as a Civil Court judge in New York State.

On Thursday, Rachel "Ruchie" Freier took the oath of office as she became a Civil Court judge in Kings County's 5th judicial district. Freier was elected last September and her purview encompasses Borough Park and other sections of Brooklyn including Bensonhurst and Coney Island. Her official term begins in January and extends through 2027.

While some may be have been surprised to see a Hasidic woman ascend the bench, those familiar with the 51-year-old Freier's record of trailblazing achievements were not. The mother of six (and grandmother) earned a law degree from Brooklyn Law School while raising her family. She practiced law in Brooklyn and Monroe, New York and also served on the community board in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Freier also founded two organizations that have made an impact on her local Hasidic community. The first is B'Derech, a secular academic program that helps ultra-Orthodox men educated previously only in yeshivas gain a high school equivalency diplomacy so they can go on to higher learning or seek gainful employment.

The second in Ezras Nashim, an emergency medical technician program exclusively for women that meets the needs of religious women in the community. Freier herself reportedly still remains on call for Ezras Nashim.

On hand for Freier's swearing in was maverick Hasidic performer Lipa Schmeltzer, Pepsi's frontman in Israel. Schmeltzer honored the new judge and the occasion by singing "God Bless America" in Yiddish, the vernacular of large numbers of Brooklyn's Hasidim. Dressed in bright white, Schmeltzer stood out among his fellow Hasidim and the judges, all dressed in black.

True to his tradition of mixing different musical genres, Schmeltzer infused his Yiddish rendition of the patriotic song composed by Irving Berlin with unmistakeable gospel flourishes.

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