In what might be a unique move in the country, if not the world, religious Jewish women in Borough Park are starting a women-only ambulance service with a special focus on delivering babies.
Women Should Have the Option
It all began last fall when Rachel Freier requested that women be allowed to serve as Emergency Medical Technicians alongside EMTs of the male persuasion in the already well-established Hatzolah ambulance service. Hatzolah is the city’s largest volunteer ambulance service, with an all-male corps of 1,300 who answer upwards of 50,000 calls each year.
“If women are having an emergency, they should have the option of calling a woman” Freier said.
Hatzolah Says No
Unfortunately for the women Hatzolah did not see the benefits outweighing the disadvantages, and turned them down. The Hatzolah EMTs felt that having men and women working side by side might lead to improper male-female relationships, a violation of Jewish law. Another consideration was whether or not giving patients who are experiencing an emergency situation a choice of a man or a woman EMT would slow down their response time. At the moment Hatzolah’s average time to arrive at an emergency is three minutes, a significant improvement on the average time the FDNY EMS usually arrives, which was 8 minutes in 2011.
Nevertheless, Hatzolah is not against the women starting their own ambulance service.
“I wish them good luck” said Hatzolah president Heshy Jacob.
Women More Comfortable with Other Women
The women feel strongly about developing their all-women ambulance service, believing it serves a real need in their community and beyond. Women often feel uncomfortable encountering male neighbors and friends, men who they see in synagogue or in stores, when they are either giving birth or having some other medical emergency.
“I know women who are traumatized after delivering in front of so many men. That’s why I am here” said a Williamsburg woman who is interested in joining the new ambulance service.
The service will be called “Ezras Nashim” which means ‘assistance for women’ in Hebrew. (The name is also a bit of a ‘play on words”™ since the women’s section of the synagogue is also called ‘ezras nashim.’)
Not a New Idea
Last Sunday was the first recruitment meeting for Ezras Nashim, held in Freier’s Borough Park residence. Freier, who is 46 years old and a lawyer said that the meeting was a great success with 50 women from all over Brooklyn signing up to train to become EMTs and/or birthing assistants.
“This is not a new idea” said new Ezras member Hadassah Strauss, 26. “Women have been delivering babies for thousands of years.”
New recruits will need to pay for their own training, which will cost about $1,000 per person. Other expenses will be covered by donations. Freier is also negotiating with a private ambulance company to be the vehicles for Ezras Nashim, saving them the time and cost of becoming certified by the state for emergency medical transportation services.
Ezras Nashim can expect a lot of business once it is up and running. According to US Census statistics Borough Park and Flatbush have the city’s highest concentration of births and babies, the majority of those being born to Jewish women.