Last Tuesday, the nation’s first all-women’s EMT first-responders service, Ezras Nashim, failed to win approval from the New York City Regional Emergency Services Council (REMSCO) to operate ambulances in Boro Park. The vote was 12-7 with five abstentions. Ezras Nashim is appealing the decision.
At a hearing on October 30 before REMSCO, Chevra Hatzalah – which has served the Jewish community for 50 years – argued that the city should deny Ezras Nashim the necessary certification, citing its slower response times and lack of resources. It also argued that two ambulatory services in one neighborhood would confuse people.
In an interview with The Jewish Press, Leah Levine – director of outreach and development for Ezras Nashim and daughter of Judge Ruchie Freier, who founded the organization – said, “We respect Hatzalah and the work they do, but the one thing they do not provide is female Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) responders. If there is a woman experiencing an emergency, it can be of a nature where her modesty is compromised, and she is going to feel a lot more comfortable if a woman is standing there.”
Ezras Nashim was founded in 2014 and currently has branches in Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey, the Five Towns, and Stern College. It is considered a Basic Life Support First Response (BLS-FR) organization, which means it can provide on-site pre-hospital emergency care but may not operate ambulances.
Ezras Nashim wants to operate an ambulance in Boro Park and Kensington and had requested what is called a Certificate of Need from REMSCO. But Chevra Hatzalah argued before the body that with only one ambulance at Ezras Nashim’s disposal, the organization would be overwhelmed and cause more harm than good. “It is genuinely difficult to comprehend how service as characterized [by Ezras Nashim] could be carried out with one ambulance,” testified Hatzalah lawyer Jeff Reisner at the hearing.
At the hearing, Levine said it “is the dream of so many women to have an ambulance for the women by the women of our community.” Another woman, Rachel Schmidt, a psychotherapist, said, “Orthodox women are raised in a modest way. Modesty is our badge of honor. Nothing is more sacred to us. If I prefer a female professional medical service, I want to have that choice.”
Chevra Hatzalah, however, argued that modesty should be no impediment to women calling Hatzalah. “From the modesty perspective of Jewish law, there is no need to form another organization,” testified Rabbi Yechiel Kaufman of Anshei Sfard of Boro Park, who said he spoke on behalf of 49 rabbis in Boro Park who signed a letter opposing Ezras Nashim’s request for certification.
“It is the steadfast position of the leading rabbis in our community, rabbis who represent a majority of constituents of chassidic and Orthodox population in the Brooklyn Boro Park community…that granting Ezras Nashim ambulance service would be detrimental to our community and culture,” he said.
Levine told The Jewish Press that Hatzalah is simply wrong. “I’ve heard stories,” she said, “of women delaying a call for help, rationalizing [that their emergency] is not life-threatening to avoid the trauma of being possibly treated by a male EMT who may be their neighbor or an acquaintance.”
Levine acknowledged that Ezras Nashim’s eight-minute response time (Hatzalah’s is two minutes) needs improvement, but said, “With the certification, we will be able to put legal sirens on our vehicles which will allow us to respond to emergencies much faster.”
Currently, Ezras Nashim boasts 50 women volunteers. The organization, according to Freier, responded to over 400 calls in 2018 and that number has been steadily increasing each year since its founding.
Chevra Hatzalah did not respond to repeated requests for comment.