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Rachel “Ruchie” Freier

(1965 - )

Rachel “Ruchie” Freier was the first woman from Judaism’s Hasidic community to serve as a judge in the United States.

Freier was born on April 2, 1965, in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the eldest of five children in a Hasidic Jewish family. She graduated from Bais Yaakov High School in 1982.

At age 19 she married David Freier, with whom she has three sons and three daughters.

Freier worked first as a legal secretary and, in 1994, as a paralegal at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. In 1996, she enrolled at Lander College, part of the Touro College and University System, where she became director of the women’s pre-law society, and graduated six years later with a Bachelor of Science degree in political science. She then entered Brooklyn Law School, graduating in 2005 and passing the New York State Bar exam in 2006.

Freier and her husband shared an office in Borough Park, where she practiced commercial and residential estate law, and he did commercial financing. Freier also had a law office in Monroe, New York, where she served Hasidic residents of nearby Kiryas Joel. She also advocated for the Satmar Hasidic community to help correct misconceptions about Hasidic life in Kiryas Joel.

Freier began her political career in 2001 as an intern in the Manhattan office of then-U.S. Senator from New York Hillary Clinton.

In 2005, she founded Chasdei Devorah, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps poor Jewish families. In 2008, she was one of the founders of B’Derech, a GED program for at-risk Haredi youth. Three years later, she founded Ezras Nashim, an all-female Orthodox Jewish volunteer EMT ambulance service. Their goal was to aid fellow women during health crises in accordance with Hasidic rules of modesty. Despite opposition from the all-male Hatzalah EMT organization, the EMS Council of NY State (SEMSCO) approved their application to provide services. Freier appeared in a 2018 documentary about Ezras Nashim, entitled 93QUEEN].

In April 2016, Freier announced her candidacy for Civil Court Judge.

Before her campaign Freier approached her rebbetzin for counseling. “If we can have Deborah the Judge,” the rabbi’s wife told her, “So, too, we can have Ruchie the Judge.”

Freier’s children campaigned with a Yiddish jingle: “Vote for Freier! S’iz mein mameh!” (Yiddish for “She’s, my mother!”).

Her election in 2016 was “a step for the ultra-Orthodox community at large,” showing it’s open to women making progress on the political ladder, said Yossi Gestetner, a longtime Hasidic political activist.

Freier said, “My communal work has prepared me for this job. B’Derech taught me about sensitivity in working with troubled youth. And after becoming a paramedic, I don’t shy away from blood. I tell the prosecutors, ‘Bring over the pictures, let me look at all the evidence.’”

“My commitment to the public and my commitment to my religion and my community – the two go hand in hand,” she says.

Some Hasidic Jews questioned her career choices, but they came to realize “I was completely devoted to our religion and our tradition, and this was something I wanted to do regardless.”

“I didn’t want to ever be considered someone who was turning away from my community,” but rather to work within its structure, she added. “Being Hasidic didn’t hold me back from being successful. Being Hasidic made me successful.”

“Women bring a different perspective. We have different thinking processes, and we bring so much to society,” she said in a conversation about inspiration, faith and lessons learned.

She draws inspiration from Sarah Schenirer, a Polish seamstress who founded the Bais Yaakov School movement in 1917. “I learned about her through some of her students who were my teachers at the Bais Yaakov High School in Brooklyn. As I read books about her, I realized she changed Jewish history. Without Jewish girls getting an education, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

At her 2016 swearing-in, Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer sang “God Bless America” in Yiddish.

Freier has received accolades across the Jewish spectrum: The Jerusalem Post included her in their “50 Most Influential Jews.” The Algemeiner named her among the “top 100 people” positively influencing Jewish life. The Forward named her in a list of 50 American Jews who have a profound impact on the American Jewish community. In 2018, Freier was inducted into the Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame.

What’s next for this powerhouse? “I hear the Supreme Court is a nice place,” she says coolly.

Sources: Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, “Judge, Ambulance Group Founder and Community Leader,” Forward, (2018).
Gerri Miller,Rachel ‘Ruchie’ Freier,” Hadassah Magazine, (August 2018).
Yoni Kempinski and Chana Roberts, “Judge Ruchie Freier at Bagels n’ Greens,” Israel National News, (January 8, 2017).
Megyn Kelly interview, YouTube, (December 20, 2017).
“Rachel Freier,” Wikipedia.
Jennifer Peltz, “Trailblazing female Hasidic judge,” Times of Israel, (January 2, 2017).

Photo: Jrathkopf, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.