Photo Credit: Courtesy
Judge Freier receiving the Brooklyn Law School Trailblazer Award.

When Ruchie Freier enrolled in Brooklyn Law School, she was no stranger to taking on challenges. The Bais Yaakov graduate and chasidic mother of six had gone to college in her 30s, founded a gemach to help poor families in Israel in memory of her friend, and launched an organization called B’derech to help boys at risk in her community complete their GEDs and get the help they needed (whether therapeutic services or a bowl of homemade cholent at her family’s table).

But when it came to her decision to pursue a law career, the naysayers got louder and Freier herself nearly succumbed to doubt: “What if the naysayers are right?” she wondered.


So she made a deal with Hashem. “I said, ‘Hashem, please help me get through law school without compromising my standards, and when your children need help, I will help them.’”

That promise is what motivated her to become the driving force behind Ezras Nashim, the all-women’s ambulance corps founded in 2014. Originally approached by a group of determined frum female EMTs in Boro Park to lend her legal expertise to their cause, Freier not only took on the challenge, becoming director and pouring thousands of hours of her time and of her own dollars into getting the organization off the ground, but became an EMT herself, then a paramedic, joining the team in providing emergency medical response to women in their community. (She still responds to Ezras Nashim calls.)

The stumbling blocks that Ezras Nashim faced were a harbinger of the organized pushback that Freier would soon confront in embarking on a judicial career. According to Freier, Brooklyn Hatzalah, the Jewish ambulance corps’s largest center, which would not accept women members, fought hard against Ezras Nashim. There is still resentment to Freier for her seminal role in the organization and some have tried to block her ascent as a judge ever since.

Elected to the Civil Court by voters in her largely chasidic district after a grassroots, Yiddish-speaking campaign in 2016, Freier was first assigned to the Criminal Court. After five-plus years on the bench, including the last three-and-a-half in Civil Court, she’s now a qualified candidate for one of the open seats on the Supreme Court. But this time, the decision on which sitting lower court judges will be elected lies not in the hands of the voters (they’ll be asked to rubber-stamp party leaders’ choices on the ballot in November) but with the Democratic district leaders who will be meeting next month to make their picks. Not exactly a shining example of democracy.

But Freier is undeterred. “I am the only heimish candidate for judge that Boro Park ever produced,” she says. “I have a good track record, and I have nothing to hide.”

The Jewish Press spoke to Freier about life on the bench and her commitment to making a difference.

The Jewish Press: You’ve achieved quite a few “firsts” – first chasidic female judge in New York, first chasidic female public office-holder in the country, founder of the first Jewish women’s volunteer ambulance corps… Which of your accomplishments fulfills you the most?

Judge Freier: Being a judge and director/founder of Ezras Nashim both give me tremendous satisfaction. However, there is a distinction: Being a judge is a secular endeavor and directing Ezras Nashim is a chesed project based on the mitzvah of tznius. They are both public service – Ezras Nashim for the Jewish community and being a judge is for all the people. In serving as a judge, I feel I have the opportunity to be mekadesh Shem Shomayim, showing the outside world who we are and what we are about.

People forging an untrodden path often profess shock when they face backlash. How did the controversy surrounding Ezras Nashim differ or not differ from what you anticipated? Have you been surprised by the force of the headwinds you’re still facing in your career as a result?

I was caught completely off guard at the resistance and backlash to the founding of a women’s organization whose sole purpose was preserving tznius. I was even more surprised to learn that those who oppose my role in founding and developing Ezras Nashim have gone to great lengths to place obstacles in my professional legal path.

After you won your race for Civil Court Judge, you were initially assigned to the Criminal Court. Talk about a tough crowd – that’s a pretty intense place to work! Tell us about your adjustment to life on the bench in that environment, and what those first few months were like.

Adjusting to Criminal Court was an amazing experience. My experience as a mother of six children was most helpful. I also found that my work with kids at risk, advocating for young boys who were not succeeding in the mainstream educational system to get their GEDs, as well as my role as a volunteer paramedic [were all] most helpful in dealing with criminal defendants during arraignments. There is an expression in Yiddish “Vus mehn tiht fahr yehner….tiht mehn fahr zich!” which translates to “What you think you do for others, you really do for yourself.”

When I started out in Criminal Court, I had all these defendants coming in with long rap sheets. I looked into their eyes and I saw the same pain I had seen in the eyes of the kids at risk I had counseled in the chasidic community, the same feelings of rejection and hopelessness. I would talk to them and encourage them to believe in themselves and not to give up, and some of them would cry. Then the prosecutors would say ‘What about the victims, the injuries in this case? We have photos!’ And I would say, ‘I am a paramedic, I want to see all of them.’ My experience as a paramedic helped me to understand the evidence.

Did you find yourself being stereotyped, underestimated, or treated differently by those you work with because of your unique background? Do you think their perception of you changed over time?

In the courts, I was always treated with respect – my unique background did not hinder me in any way. In fact, it helped me with providing a strong foundation and faith that no matter what I decide [as a judge], Hashem runs the world.

Judge Freier being honored at City Hall, New York, in 2017.

With the frenetic pace and overflowing docket of the court, is it still possible for a judge to make a meaningful difference?

Some days are more hectic than others, and it takes time, but judges can make a difference. Whether they win or lose, people want to feel heard, that they’re being listened to. I try to bring out the humanity in the situation and understand each party’s position. When I find that I am able to connect with the litigants and get them to settle, that’s very rewarding. Most people come in wanting to fight it out, but at the end of the day, fighting it out doesn’t mean you walk away happy. If they can walk away and shake hands and then continue going forward, to me that’s the greatest accomplishment.

How have these last six years as a judge impacted you personally?

The personal impact is that I have a tremendous hakoras hatov to my fellow Boro Park and Kensington residents who elected me in 2016 and enabled me to ascend the bench. Additionally, I have tremendous gratitude to The Jewish Press and all the people who went out of their way to help me without asking for anything in return.

What about your impact on your community – how do you measure that?

My community has witnessed that it is possible to be a professional and remain a committed member of the Boro Park community. That while my work takes me out of Boro Park, my family and my heart [are] in Boro Park.

Culture wars are raging on so many issues that sometimes it seems society as we know it, all the norms we grew up with, are disappearing. How should the Jewish community navigate the situation?

The Jewish community should continue to remain steadfast in our age-old beliefs and practices that have withstood the tests of time. We should stick together with our achdus, emunah, and bitachon.

Obviously, your core support is among the chasidic community. Do you actively campaign outside that circle? How do you make your case to other sectors who are not your natural constituency?

I love campaigning outside the chasidic community. It provides me with the opportunity to create a Kiddush Hashem as I share our traditions and values with people who have questions and may be unfamiliar with our practices.

There is a lot of talk about diversity and representation of different communities in the judicial branch. Is this just a symbolic matter? If judges must approach every case without bias, why should it matter who is on the bench?

Judges talk with each other about the culture of our different communities. It makes us a more understanding bench. The more you understand about different communities, the more fair you can be in making a judgment. You don’t make a decision based on that, but you want to understand the parties.

Your example is so empowering to frum women, but let’s face it: Not every Jewish wife and mother could pull off what you did – pursue a high-level career and myriad community initiatives while raising a large family. Do you ever worry that women will put too much pressure on themselves or their family life in order to achieve what you’ve shown them is possible, and that there may be casualties in that struggle?

I always tell people that my story is one of 30-plus years. Take things slowly and you can succeed. Accelerated tracks can create casualties. Take off the pressure and get help in the house… Be patient and daven for Siyata d’Shmaya!

Let’s talk about Ezras Nashim for a moment. Have you had any interest from other communities wanting to replicate the Boro Park model?

Many outside communities have requested that I help them form [branches of] Ezras Nashim. But I need to first see Boro Park as the paradigm and grow until we reach higher levels, b’ezras Hashem.

I understand that one of your daughters is involved in Ezras Nashim. Tell us about that, and if any of your girls have followed in your professional footsteps?

My daughter Leah Levine is the COO of Ezras Nashim and is a powerhouse. She makes me so proud to see what she has accomplished. As a judge, I cannot fundraise nor recruit so that’s why Leah stepped in and she has surpassed all expectations!

Have your two worlds – being a judge and a paramedic – ever collided? Have you ever jumped in to respond to a medical emergency in the courthouse?

Yes! I was coming down the hallway toward my chambers and I saw a fellow judge outside her chambers, coughing. She had been coughing a lot lately, and now she couldn’t stop coughing – she was going into respiratory distress. There were two court officers with her and they said ‘We have to call 911,’ but she said ‘No, I don’t want to make a scene.’ I always keep an extra set of my EMS equipment in my chambers so I went and got my bag. As soon as the judge saw me open up my bag and take out my oxygen mask and oxygen tank, she began to calm down. I stabilized her and I told her, ‘I have lights and sirens on my car – I’ll drive you to the hospital.’ She agreed. I took her to the hospital, and she was treated and released that night.

In your spare time – if you have any – what do you do to relax?

I relax on Shabbat!

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleCandidate Carlina Rivera Walks Back ‘Religious Exemptions’ on LGBTQ She Promised Hamodia
Next articleHealth Ministry’s Quality Report: Shaare Zedek, Mayanei HaYeshua at Bottom of List
Ziona Greenwald, a contributing editor to The Jewish Press, is a freelance writer and editor and the author of two children's books, “Kalman's Big Questions” and “Tzippi Inside/Out.” She lives with her family in Jerusalem.