“They would cry to me about the pain they were in. They weren’t bad boys, but they had made some bad choices because they were hurting.” At that time, Ruchie learned of an anti-frum organization that was helping off-the-derech teens with education and job training, and taking them further away from the path they grew up on. With her trademark energy and know-how, she created a GED and vocational training program affiliated with a local college so these boys could get the education they needed to restart their lives, in a frum environment.
It was her training as a lawyer that got her involved in the project that now has taken over her life. She got a phone call from some women EMTs who had been longing to form a group that would help women during emergency situations. “They told me countless stories of women who gave birth at home, attended by male EMTs who, while professional, were their next-door neighbors or local shopkeepers. Many of these women were traumatized and humiliated. The group wanted to start something to help women, but didn’t know where to begin.”
They needed someone to pull it off the ground, and Ruchie, realizing they needed structured leadership, went to work, contacting the health department, forming a legal entity and obtaining IRS status. Ruchie felt she couldn’t lead the organization without a better understanding of emergency medicine, so she decided to become an EMT herself, even convincing her mother to join her in the training.
Says Ruchie, “I learned the hard way that a leader has to be determined, and often needs to make the difficult decisions no one is willing to make.” The opposition to this new idea was tremendous, and came from many quarters. Some accused her of being too feminist. Ruchie got chizuk from the Skverer Rebbe, who had formed a female division of Hatzalah in his town of New Square, specifically for female emergencies. Support also came from Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who had been involved in B’derech and was extremely encouraging to Ruchie in establishing Ezras Nashim. He also donated the first defibrillators to the organization.
Today, Ezras Nashim is up and running in Boro Park, and many other communities have expressed interest in forming branches in their neighborhood. Ezras Nashim EMTs are certified by the NYS Health Department, and have additional training in Neonatal Resuscitation and Basic Life Support in Obstetrics. Many of the women are also doulas, and their calm, soothing presence during an emergency makes all the difference. “We women don’t even realize how much healing we do just by being women,” says Ruchie. “At one emergency homebirth attended by Ezras Nashim, the mother kept telling us that she couldn’t have planned it better! The experience is different when women help women, just like Shifra and Puah did back in Egypt.” And their services aren’t limited to delivering babies. “We receive all kinds of emergency calls, from pediatric to geriatric.”
Ezras Nashim is having a tremendous impact, on the women they serve and even on the volunteers. It has been a springboard for many women to enter the medical field – they start out as EMTs and then go on to become nurses or paramedics. Ruchie made the decision to go to paramedic school in order to expand her skills further and be an even more effective leader of Ezras Nashim. “I want to bring home the best for my community,” she says. She will be graduating in June.
“My goal for Ezras Nashim is promoting the idea that frum women are so special and can do so many things. In a Torah way, there’s so much we can do to make a difference. It’s hard work, but anything worthwhile is difficult!” She also learned that change happens slowly. “Even if it’s a good thing, it won’t happen overnight. But if you believe Hashem runs the world, then you know that anything is possible, and you will receive the syatta d’Shmaya to persevere.”