In a ceremony attended by over 100 friends, family and supporters, Judge Rachel “Ruchie” Freier was inducted into the New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday night, November 15th. She is the first chassidic female to take on that role. The ceremony was held at Brooklyn Law School, Judge Freier’s alma mater. Master of Ceremonies, Steven M. Cohen of Tiveron Law PLLC and Chair of the Criminal and Litigation Groups, introduced the speakers and the Shir V’Shevach Boys Choir led by Chaim M. Flugman. In preparing his remarks for the evening, Mr. Cohen had his son look over his speech. His son, who usually says, “Dad, you wrote too much,” said that his father’s speech about Judge Freier was not long enough. Mr. Cohen called Judge Freier a trailblazer, civil rights giant, brilliant litigator, lawyer, judge and wonderful human being who didn’t kick doors open – she knocked them off their hinges.
David D. Meyer, President and Dean of Brooklyn Law School, said that the term “trailblazer” is overused, but not tonight. Judge Freier set the path for others by raising six children while in law school. She set up a program for teens at risk, founded Ezras Nashim and even saved the life of someone who was experiencing a medical emergency mid-flight. Judge Freier accepted the challenges presented to her and overcame them.
As Judge Freier’s mentor and professor, Aaron D. Twerski stated that as a young law graduate, he was told that nobody would hire him because of his manner of dress and peyos. Judge Freier related that naysayers tried to convince her not to pursue law, stating, “nobody would seek legal advice from a chassidesh women,” but also that she would compromise on her values. Professor Twerski and Judge Freier proved them wrong.
Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn – New York State Assemblymember, 42nd Assembly District, and Majority Whip, and Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair – spoke about how proud she was to elevate and celebrate Supreme Court Justice Freier. Assemblymember Bichotte Hermelyn is also a graduate of Brooklyn Law School. She noted that Ruchie Freier was the first chassidic woman to hold public office. Judge Freier is an inspiration to young women, she said. The Assembly recognized Judge Freier with a citation that Bichotte Hermelyn presented, which recognized and honored Freier’s commitment to and inspiring others to commit to equitable justice.
Judge Freier has served as an acting Supreme Court Judge in King County for the past year. The Honorable Lawrence Knipel, New York State Administrative Judge for Civil Matters, Second Judicial District (Brooklyn), and recipient of the Benjamin Cardozo Award from the Jewish Lawyers Guild, said that it is hoped that a newly elected judge will succeed as a jurist. Ruchie Freier is already a jurist and an excellent one at that, said Judge Knipel; she is knowledgeable, adheres to the rule of law and performs well. Judge Freier stood out in the Guardianship Part, where she presided over thousands of guardianship cases. Judge Knipel first heard about Rachel Freier from her late uncle, former Civil Court Judge David Schmidt, who said that she is exceptional and that he expects great things from her. Somewhere out there, “I hear David chuckling, ‘I told you so,’” Knipel said.
Mr. Cohen introduced Rabbi Moshe Indig, head of the JCC of Williamsburg, as well as a leader in the Borough Park, Williamsburg and “Aaronite” Satmar communities as a problem solver, strategist and humanitarian who built relationships to help others. Rabbi Indig joked that he was originally going to speak in Yiddish, but when he was told it was going to be a mixed crowd, he switched his speech to include both Yiddish and English. Rabbi Indig congratulated Judge Freier on her achievement, but noted that we previously had a female judge in Jewish history, namely Devorah, who was a great judge, a voice for the voiceless who judged with fairness, honesty and integrity. Today, Rabbi Indig said, we celebrate Judge Rachel Freier, who mirrors Judge Devorah. This remarkable achievement and a legacy of a symbol of strength for a legal professional is cause for celebration.
Mr. Cohen joked that one is judged by the friends they have. He remarked that when you have the New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, drop whatever she’s doing to attend your induction ceremony, that says something. Attorney General James praised the Shir V’Shevach Choir, which she said sung directly to G-d. James was seen clapping along to the Satmar Mitzva Tantz performed by the group. She joked that they should do a collaboration together: “James and the Boys.” Attorney General James stated that it was an honor and privilege to speak at Judge Freier’s induction ceremony for the Kings County 5th judicial district (Civil Part) seven years ago and that it was an honor and privilege to speak again this evening.
James had just landed in New York City from Buffalo but knew she had to come honor Freier. “We have a lot in common,” said Attorney General James, and that it’s important during these difficult times to maintain close bonds with the Jewish community. History was being made this evening and Judge Freier’s children and grandchildren were there to experience. This was no coincidence or accident; Letitia James and Rachel Freier had to fight for their respective positions; nothing was handed to them. “That is why tonight is so special” and we should all celebrate Judge Freier, whom she called a “superwoman.” Oftentimes, she continued, the difference between a good and a great jurist is the “life experiences you bring to the bench” and Judge Freier has always extended her hand in allowing others to succeed through her community work and all-female volunteer ambulance service. These experiences will make her a “fair” and “truly wonderful justice.” James then wished her “mazel tov” and swore her in to the Court.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams gave “shalom” to the audience and recalled being present at Judge Freier’s Civil Part induction ceremony seven years earlier. “I love to be where history is being made.” As the father of two little girls, Public Advocate Williams said how amazing it was for them to see women like Attorney General James and Judge Freier. He then presented Judge Freier with an award on behalf of the City of New York.
Mr. Cohen described District Leader Lori Citron Knipel as someone who embodies the song from Toy Story, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” District Leader Citron Knipel marveled at the evening’s celebration and said it was what we all need right now. As District Leader for 32 years, Knipel said she has worked hard for the Borough of Brooklyn. What makes a good judge? One who can listen courteously, answer wisely, and decide a case impartially. Judge Freier is a remarkable woman who is more than qualified, Citron Knipel said. Her journey is an inspiration for all; she makes things happen. The rest of us are left wondering how she does it all.
She continued: Judge Freier trained to become an EMT and then a paramedic. She dedicated 18 months to studying the medical profession while working at a law firm. Judge Freier gives countless women comfort and dignity in their most vulnerable moments. Her care and sensitivity go hand in hand. She broke barriers and empowered women. Judge Freier fulfilled her dreams but is also allowing young woman to fulfill theirs. Citron Knipel is proud to call her a good friend. “Tonight we stand in awe as Judge Freier shatters the glass ceiling [in] becoming the first chassidic women to be elected to the New York State Supreme Court and the first in our nation.”
Rabbi Berish Freier, father of Rabbi Dovid Freier and father-in-law of Ruchie Freier, attended the ceremony with his wife, Freda. Rabbi Berish Freier spoke at the Judge’s swearing in ceremony for Kings Civil Court seven years ago. Tonight, at 105 years of age, he offered blessings on the audience, but also reflected back to the Shoah, which he survived. “How can this happen?” he tearfully asked. However, he also offered words of hope, praise and blessings for those assembled, especially to his daughter-in-law on her new judicial position. Judge Freier’s 99-year old aunt, Katie, who also survived the Holocaust, was in attendance.
Rabbi Dovid Freier marveled at how he could wake up in the morning to his wife, Ruchie, recounting to him that she went on two calls in the middle of the night. The couple will sometimes go on vacation so that Ruchie could get a break, but even when they are traveling, she is always helping people – and saving lives. In 2019, Judge Freier won an award for saving the life of a passenger on a Lufthansa flight from Budapest, Hungary, to Frankfurt, Germany. Since that time, “I threw the word ‘vacation’ out of my vocabulary,” said Rabbi Dovid Freier. Yet, Ruchie remains positive, says Rabbi Freier. This is because she always looks at the bright side of things.
Judge Freier’s daughter and COO of Ezras Nashim, Leah Freier Levine, recounted how her mother would listen to people say she couldn’t do things, then do them anyway. Judge Freier puts her whole heart into what she believes in – without hesitation; she is guided in the belief that this is what G-d wants her to do. Her resilience left a strong impression on Leah, who undertook the fundraising aspect of Ezras Nashim, which Freier was precluded from as a judge; there was nobody else who could or would take the job. Leah remembered her mother’s mantra: you jump in and try your best; trust Hashem to take care of the rest. Judge Freier’s milestone was not without challenges; she navigated opposition with grace, leaving Leah in awe. G-d orchestrates the world. First and foremost, Judge Freier is a mother; as a mother herself, Leah appreciates this all the more so. Her mother would greet the children every night with a fresh, hot delicious supper.
The uncompromising efforts and values Judge Freier instilled in her children resonate with them to this day, said Leah Freier Levine. Their mother took them to doctors’ appointments and attended their plays. When Leah was 10 years old, her mother drove two hours to watch her daughter perform in the camp play. To this day, Leah is moved to tears by the length her mother went to make her feel valued. Despite Freier’s busy schedule, she carved out time to listen to her daughter’s stories, attend her needs and prepare the foods she enjoyed. As a mother herself, Leah says she pales in comparison to her mother.
Judge Freier’s adherence to the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim was demonstrated on the countless guests who came (unbeknownst to Judge Freier), but were welcomed anyway. “My mother’s home is an open house.” Leah said her friends are now married but they still come because the Freier home is open to all and all feel welcome.
Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, whose titles Mr. Stern said he could not fit on an index card, offered a benediction for those assembled and to Judge Freier herself. He also gave a prayer for the State of Israel stating that it should defeat the terrorists. It is hoped that justice will prevail soon.
The robing ceremony was conducted by Judge Freier’s children (two of who came in from Israel) and grandchildren who helped her don the role and robe of her new judicial position. The grandchildren then shared a few words about their grandmother, in both English and Yiddish.
There was a Ceremony of the Colors presentation by the office of the Court Administration Ceremonial Unit, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Marine Park Jewish Center and JCON’s founder, Shea Rubinstein. Judge Freier recited Tehillim 23 in Hebrew followed by a recitation in English by District Leader Kenesha Traynham-Cooper of the 56th Assembly District.
Judge Freier thanked the many people who helped her get to where she is today, including three Davids: her husband, King David, and Brooklyn Law School’s Dean David Meyer. She also thanked three Sarahs: her mother, Sarah Gluck (who tends to her husband’s every need), Sarah Imeinu and Sarah Schenirer, founder of the Beis Yaakov movement (who also heard it from naysayers). Judge Freier is also grateful to know that she won’t be the last to trek this path.
As a Brooklyn Law student, Judge Freier balanced family and religious life, but also the many demands of a four year graduate program. She found a stairwell behind a stairwell where she could daven Mincha privately and did so dutifully throughout her time at Brooklyn Law School. When Freier graduated, she thanked the security guard Clyde, who said he would miss her and her small book. Surprised, Judge Freier said that law school books were numerous and heavy. Clyde responded, “I meant your prayer book.” It turns out that there was a security camera by the stairwell. Judge Freier thought that G-d was the only one watching her. We don’t know who’s watching us or what impression we make.
After the ceremony, the crowd was greeted to a fleishig buffet dinner catered by Schick caterers, which was under Rabbinical and judicial supervision. Guests took pictures with Judge Freier, who took the time to greet and talk with each one. This was despite the late hour. The event concluded at about 11:00, a whirlwind, lengthy and inspiring evening for all; a true kiddush Hashem was made for all communities.