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Brooklyn may be home to modern hipster culture, but it also remains the home of the country’s largest ultraorthodox Jewish community. This insular sect in Borough Park maintains its own set of conservative religious guidelines, including those that dictate that women never show their hair or bare legs in public or engage in physical contact with non-familial men, including shaking hands. And yet in times of medical emergencies and childbirth, it is the men of Hatzolah Emergency Medical Service who intimately care for women. Rachel “Ruchie” Freier and her crew of dutiful yet revolutionary Hasidic women are ready to change this. Freier is a mother of six, a lawyer and a tornado-like force willing to put it all on the line to create the all-women’s volunteer ambulance corps group Ezras Nashim (Hebrew for “helping women”).
With allies of all ages, religious beliefs and backgrounds, Freier and her team battle the Hatzolah, conservative rabbis and a divided community to give women the right to choose their care. But it’s a complex campaign for change and a complex documentary as well, one that rightly showcases Ruchie as a feminist icon, even as she fights to avoid being seen as one. But what makes a feminist? Her label, or her actions? —Alexis Whitham
Paula Eiselt is a NYC-based independent filmmaker whose work has been supported by the Sundance Institute; ITVS; IFP; the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA); the International Documentary Association (IDA); Women Make Movies (WMM) and the Hartley Film Foundation. Eiselt was also a 2016 IFP Documentary Lab Fellow. Her film 93QUEEN won the inaugural firstlook Pitch Prize at the 2017 Hot Docs Forum. A graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Eiselt's filmmaking journey began on a spring day in 10th grade when she skipped class at her Orthodox Jewish high school to rent Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, which inspired her to become a filmmaker and led to her securing an internship with Mr. Aronofsky. In addition to her feature docs, Eiselt is developing a New York Times Op-Doc on Jewish identity in collaboration with the team behind the In Conversation on Race series. Eiselt lives in Queens with her husband, two young curious sons and a sassy daughter.