A dozen Orthodox Jewish women gathered in Midwood to celebrate the official kickoff of the Ezras Nashim volunteer ambulance corps, an all-female paramedic corps for Orthodox women who don’t want to receive medical treatment from men, according to its director.
“Women now have a choice of who to call, and while there are still a few against us, most average people are so happy,” said Leah Levine.
The group received its license from the New York State Department of Health on Aug. 13, allowing the corps to purchase their own ambulance and distribute lights, sirens, and special plates to emergency responders.
Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “assisting women” — was founded in 2009 for women who wanted to be treated by female healthcare professionals in cases of sickness, injury, and childbirth. The service received a license to be a “basic life saving” service, but was denied the right to get an ambulance by the city in 2019 after a push by its rival, all-male ambulance corps, Hatzolah.
Hatzolah bars women from becoming first responders, reasoning women must be modest in public and are not equipped to handle emergency cases. Its members allegedly told the founders of Hatzolah to start their own organization when they tried to join the corps, so Levine was surprised by the group’s opposition after she founded Ezras Nashim, she said.
“Hatzolah doesn’t accept women paramedics, so they even told us to form our own group, the rabbi even told us to, and then they fought us,” Levine said.
The Aug. 13 decision reverses the city’s 2019 ruling — but Levine said that the legal battle against Hatzolah, who allegedly hired attorneys to thwart Ezras Nashim’s efforts, cost the all-female group nearly $100,000.
Despite the opposition, Ezras Nashim has found plenty of public support and has already started a fundraising campaign to secure its first ambulance, Levine said.
“My husband has been saying how excited he was and so many people have expressed support – this is not the behavior of average Jewish men,” she said. “But there is still a few people with a lot of power who are using propaganda making noise against us, and what they are saying really isn’t true.”
The group didn’t wait for its ambulance license to begin serving the public. So far, they’ve responded to 450 emergency calls this year, with members using their personal vehicles to bring two-way radios, medical gear, and defibrillators with them to wherever they are needed, according to Levine.
As of now, Ezras Nashim are 21 women training to be EMTs, and Levine is conducting the training sessions while running the organization. There are currently 45 EMTs in branches in Flatbush, Borough Park, the Five Towns in Long Island, and 11 EMTs training in Monsey, New York.
The volunteers dress modestly and “appropriately,” Levine said, with special vests, and are trained to make their patients “feel right and feel comfortable.”
One volunteer said she gave birth to her daughter, who is now nine weeks old, with the help of Ezras Nahim.
“I had them on speed dial because they were incredible, it was like boom the baby is here,” said Chani Richter, 35, as she held her sixth child. “The whole street was then filled because 911 sent three ambulances and police cars, but if Ezras Nashim had an ambulance, they could’ve taken me.”
Another volunteer said she decided to join Ezras Nashim after seeing an ad for it.
“I really liked what they stand for — they stand for options that align with the values of women,” said Andrea Sachs, a graduate of Touro College. “[The volunteers] really care about you — it’s the community — and that’s the difference between calling 911, and you may not get a woman to help you.”
Levine said that while they have the license to move forward, they must now step up fundraising to buy an ambulance and get a garage to keep it. She said they raised $30,000 in one month and are starting new branches.
Anyone interested in helping this organization with a donation or looking to volunteer may go to their website at ezrasnashim.org. To get immediate assistance, call 718-232-1300.
This story first appeared on AMNY.com.