You just have to do two things at once,” said Rachel Freier in an interview with The Jewish Week as she juggled her cellphone and checkbook at the register of the Midwood TJ Maxx on Friday afternoon, five hours before Shabbos.
Nearly one year after first mentioning the idea to her family in their sukkah, Rachel “Ruchie” Freier is now set to become the first chasidic woman to be elected to New York Civil Court. Come January, she is expected to become a civil court judge for Brooklyn’s Fifth Judicial District, which includes Sunset Park, Borough Park, South Slope, Windsor Terrace and Kensington.
“My message is that there are incredible opportunities for women, and that if you have a dream, go for it and don’t ever compromise your standards,” Freier said. “Stay firm in what you believe in, stay firm in what you practice.”
Freier shattered the stereotype that many hold for religious women in her culture, going against the traditional path by attending law school part-time and passing the bar exam as she raised her six children — three boys, three girls — at home.
“What I do may not be what the majority is doing, but what I do always has the support of the rabbis I consult with,” Freier said.
While she prides herself on keeping her actions within the confines of Jewish law, Freier has a reputation for going up against the status quo. In 2011, Freier first took on the Orthodox establishment by spearheading the creation of B’Derech, a New York State-approved GED program for charedi men who didn’t receive a secular education in high school.
Soon after, Freier went against the all-male Hatzolah EMT crew’s wishes by establishing Ezras Nashim, an ambulance service staffed only by women geared at preserving religious women’s modesty during times of medical emergencies. People have been trying to create an ambulance service for women for 30 years, but Freier was the first to get it done.
Freier’s sister, Chavie Friedman, said the future judge’s drive to do good, even in the face of opposition, came from her upbringing.
“We very much are into what’s the right thing to do, and if it’s the right thing you do it no matter what,” Friedman said. “I’ve learned that when you stand up for what’s right, Hashem helps.”
In addition to founding B’Derech and Ezras Nashim, Freier served as a member of Borough Park’s Community Board 12, became a licensed EMT and New York State paramedic and served as a volunteer attorney at NYC Family Court.
Friedman described her sister as “focused, energetic, unstoppable” and “humble.”
“Ruchie has always helped people with whatever ability she had,” she said.
“She was always busy and had a full schedule,” she added, “but I was amazed at how much she was able to accomplish.”
Freier, who has over 30 years’ experience in law, won 40.7 percent of the vote in the three-way Democratic primary. Rival Jill Epstein won 34.3 percent, and the third candidate, and Morton Avigdor, who is Orthodox, received 24.3 percent according to unofficial results published by the New York Board of Elections the night of the election.
“The female vote was split and the Orthodox vote was split, so it was a very challenging campaign,” Freier said. “I don’t think this race was about gender. I think it was more about issues, and at least from my perspective, it was about what I’ve done and what I stand for.”
Freier attributes a large part of her success to her faith, and she says she couldn’t have won the election without the help of her family, whom she referred to as her “biggest campaigners.”
“I think being religious really is very helpful because when you’re religious you have that perspective that God runs the world, and what he wants is what’s going to happen,” Freier said. “Success or failure is really up to God. I know that whatever it is I usually do I can keep doing and the rest is faith, emunah.”
Freier must win the general election in November to secure her position on the bench, but since there is no Republican challenger, she is nearly sure to win.
“[I] want to be like this ambassador to show the world and our community that it’s not mutually exclusive,” Freier said. “We can be both. We can be successful, and we can also be devout.”