Another year, another hotly contested judicial campaign in Brooklyn, where even the Jewish community’s power brokers are split in their alliances. Though it’s only the Kings County Democratic Party committee members who cast their votes, the nomination in August of six candidates for the Supreme Court of Kings County all but assures their victory down the ballot in November.
Among those selected were two Orthodox judges – Saul Stein, elected to the Civil Court last year, and Rachel (better known as Ruchie) Freier, who was elected to the Civil Court in 2016 and named Acting Supreme Court Justice this January. Freier, 58, a mother of six from Boro Park’s chasidic community who pursued a law career in her 40s and founded several chesed non-profits along the way, including the all-women volunteer ambulance corps Ezras Nashim, spoke to The Jewish Press about her long-awaited ascension to the role of Madame Justice. (Judge Stein declined an invitation to be interviewed.)
The Jewish Press: How does it feel to have achieved another milestone in judicial history?
Freier: Humbled and honored. Humbled by the fact that Hashem chose me with this opportunity to be His ambassador in the prestigious court, and honored by the elected officials who voted for me.
With two Orthodox candidates in the mix, your selection by the committee was not assured. How contentious was the process for you personally?
The process was contentious indeed and it was very personal. The pushback stems deep by a small group of people in Boro Park with a disproportionate amount of political influence. Nevertheless, Hashem proved once again to all the naysayers that He runs the world. Rabbos machshavos b’lev eesh – men can scheme and plot, but Hashem’s plan prevails.
The results of this race surprised some observers. How did two Orthodox candidates both clinch nominations in a diversity-obsessed borough? Did the outcome surprise you?
This political move was a brilliant one and surprised me as soon as I heard of it. The credit goes to the Kings County Democratic Committee Party Leader Rodneyse Bichotte (and the district leaders who followed her lead) as well as my brilliant and dedicated chasidic supporters in Williamsburg and Crown Heights who advocated for me.
How do you anticipate your role and potential impact on the Supreme Court differing from your work in the Civil Court?
Since January of this year, I have been serving as Acting Supreme Court Justice. I was first assigned to preside over the Discovery Part and in July assigned to preside over the Guardianship Part. I don’t know what Hashem has planned for me, but as of now, my role and impact have taken place. I hope that my faith and life experience as a mother and grandmother, my legal and judicial experience combined which span 30-plus years, together with my background in community askanus as a volunteer paramedic and director of Ezras Nashim Volunteer Ambulance Service and working with youth at risk will continue to enable me to relate with a clear, strong sense of equity and fairness to the people who appear before me in court.
You received the support of several local religious leaders in this race. Why do you think they supported your candidacy?
The religious leaders who supported me recognized, understood, and valued my emphasis on following the law while remaining committed to my religious values and chasidic tradition.
Will Supreme Court Justice Ruchie Freier still be going on calls for Ezras Nashim?
Why not? Ezras Nashim is and will, b’ezras Hashem, continue to be very important to me. The mitzvah of saving lives is a zechus that I not only championed for all women, but am committed to practicing myself.