NEW YORK (VINnews/Sandy Eller) – It was another battle in the ongoing war between Ezras Nashim and Hatzolah, as an unprecedented hearing at the state level on Wednesday afternoon gave the public a chance to weigh on the all-female ambulance corps’ application for an ambulance of its own.
Ezras Nashim submitted its first request for an ambulance approval to New York City’s Regional Emergency Medical Services Council last summer. That request was denied in October, as previously reported on VIN News (https://bit.ly/3e8SMUA), despite the hearing officer’s recommendation that it be approved. Several Hatzolah members were among those who voted against the application and Ezras Nashim appealed the REMSCO decision to the New York State Emergency Medical Services Council in Albany.
After considering the matter, Administrative Law Judge Tina M. Champion advised on April 22nd that the REMSCO decision be reversed and that Ezras Nashm’s application be granted because existing ambulance services were not meeting the unique modesty needs of local women. A vote on the matter should have taken place at the next SEMSCO meeting, with members taking Champion’s conclusion under advisement, but that meeting has been postponed several times. In the interim, Hatzolah submitted a petition to SEMSCO bearing 330 signatures protesting the Ezras Nashim application.
Faced with what it considered to be significant opposition to the matter, SEMSCO convened a teleconferenced hearing to allow for public comment. According to Ezras Nashim founder Judge Ruchie Freier, holding a public hearing after an administrative law judge presents their conclusion is an extremely rare occurrence.
“This decision came out in April and you would think this would have been over, but it’s not,” Freier told VIN News. “Hatzolah wanted another chance to get up and say ‘the public in Borough Park is against Ezras Nashim.’”
Several of those who spoke on behalf of Hatzolah during the approximately 90 minute long hearing said that having two different ambulance services dedicated to the Jewish community would create confusion with people wasting time during an emergency deciding who to call. Others praised Hatzolah for its fast response time, its physical manpower, its sensitivity towards women and its many years of service to the Jewish community. One noted that even NYPD officers have called Hatzolah when a family member has fallen ill because of its pristine reputation.
But Paula Eiselt, producer of 93QUEEN, a documentary spotlighting Ezras Nashim told a different story. Explaining that she had spent five years following the all women’s EMT corps as she filmed 93QUEEN , Eisalt said that the ongoing saga has nothing to do with an ambulance.
“This is about Hatzolah’s leadership retaining power and control,” said Eiselt. “This is about so much more than need and frankly Hatzolah is taking this committee for fools for trying to convince you that there is no need.”
Eisalt said that she had personally witnessed Ezras Nashim having difficulty doing something as simple as obtaining necessary medical supplies because of the conflict.
“Suppliers feared Hatzolah,” said Eiselt. “I was told that Hatzolah had threatened hospitals not to train Ezras Nashim. I got voicemails from Hatzolah members threatening me. On the flip side, I have had Hatzolah members approaching me … saying that the leadership does not represent them.”
Offering another view of the issue was Debra Schmell, who works with special needs children, many of whom suffer from mental illness. She noted that many of her clients are extremely fearful of being helped by men they do not know, particularly those who have been abused by men.
“A lot of them in a life or death situation will not call Hatzolah because that will be a man coming and they would rather die,” explained Schmell. “So this becomes a life and death situation to have a woman that they can call to come and assist them.”
While Ezras Nashim supporters credited Hatzolah for its lifesaving work over the years, some took the volunteer group to task for adamantly refusing to having women joining its ranks, arguing that women should have options in their health care. And while much of the focus has been on modesty issues within the Chasidic community, 18 year old Amalya Tolchin said that as a member of the Modern Orthodox community she finds those concerns to be universal.
“Whether it be for a teenager like myself, to a 90 year old woman, a Chasidish women or a Modern Orthodox one, it is clear that the by-women-for-women care provided by Ezras Nashim is necessary,” said Tolchin, adding, “I truly hope they will receive their license so they can continue to provide care and make the lives of all the women of New York better, no matter who they are.”
Community activist Heshy Tischler talked about caring for his elderly mother in the last eight years of her life and her insistence on having only female attendants because of the modesty that had been so ingrained in her since her childhood. He admitted that while she had been seen by male doctors while hospitalized, there were times when Hatzolah calls became uncomfortable for her because she was being touched by men.
“Ezras Nashim is being deprived of their constitutional right,” said Tischler. “Ezras Nashim has the right to close the gap on emergency medical care in our community, namely allowing women to help. Women are not just competent – they are more qualified to serve as EMTs for the women of Boro Park.”
Ezras Nashim EMT Sara Weishaus, a registered nurse, spoke of a cousin who could not bring herself to call Hatzolah when one of her veins burst in the shower.
“She could not bear being exposed naked to males of her community,” said Weishaus. “Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.”
Weishaus spoke about responding to a call where the female patient requested that Ezras Nashim arrange her transport to the hospital. According to Weishaus, Hatzolah intervened, claiming “an exclusive territorial right to transport Jewish patients.”
“It is for incidents like this that we need our own ambulance,” said Weishaus.
Citing the 300 signatures opposing the Ezras Nashim application, Weishaus observed that they represent a minute fraction of the local Jewish community, adding, “Just because a few people out there do not want Ezras Nashim it doesn’t mean that we’re not needed.”
A final decision by SEMSCO on the application will be made at a future meeting which has yet to be scheduled.