Women Seek To Join Hatzalah Corps

For Modesty's Sake, Hoping To Join Jewish Ambulance Service

Modest Lifesavers: Yocheved Lerner-Miller is one of the women pushing to join the Hatzalah ambulance service.
claudio Papapietro
Modest Lifesavers: Yocheved Lerner-Miller is one of the women pushing to join the Hatzalah ambulance service.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published November 28, 2011, issue of December 02, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Miriam was home alone in Brooklyn’s Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park when she birthed her second child, her water breaking unexpectedly and the baby slipping out along with it. Moments later, seven men barreled through the door. One of them took the baby, and another asked Miriam to lie down so that he could check between her legs for the placenta. Then, the technicians — members of the volunteer ambulance corps Hatzalah — whisked her away to the hospital. Even though her male neighbor had called the men in an effort to help, Miriam said the experience was “traumatizing.”

In the ultra-Orthodox world in which Miriam lives, unmarried men and women are barred from touching, let alone exposing their bodies to one another. Though the incident occurred 15 years ago, Miriam (who asked that her name be changed to protect her privacy) remembers every detail of that uncomfortable visit. In particular, she remembers wishing that women had attended to her, instead of men.

“I think that a woman who has to give birth at home should at least have the comfort of another woman at her side,” she said.

Now, if a group of women in Brooklyn has its way, Miriam’s wish will come true. Calling themselves Ezras Nashim — an informal term for the women’s section of a synagogue — the group of 60 has been agitating since last year to join the ranks of the Brooklyn branch of the Hatzalah, one of the most venerated Orthodox institutions in America. Though the women are engaged in a seemingly feminist act by clamoring to join a boy’s club, they don’t see it that way. Instead, they say, they are modesty crusaders, speaking out for the cause of decency.

“It’s not about Susan B. Anthony and standing up and getting out there,” Ezras Nashim spokeswoman Rachel Freier said. “Feminism is a secular concept.”

So far, the Hatzalah leadership is unconvinced. “There are many things at which women are superior,” Heshy Jacobs, a member of Hatzalah’s executive board, reportedly noted on the Vos Iz Neias? website. “But when it comes to speed and physical strength, which are both of the essence in a medical emergency, it is a proven fact that men have an advantage.”

Not so long ago, women were welcomed into the ambulance corps. Hatzalah was founded in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg in the late 1960s to aid Brooklyn’s Yiddish neighborhoods that were underserved by the city’s English-speaking emergency technicians. At the time, several dozen women created an all-female division of Hatzalah called “Hatzilu,” to serve women of the community. But the effort was short-lived. Fearful of mixing genders among the technicians, a group of local rabbis ordered Hatzalah to disband its female wing after just three months of operation.

“We weren’t happy,” an original member of Hatzilu told the Forward. “We wanted to help the women. We had to accept it as is.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.