Lawyer and Borough Park community activist Rachel “Ruchie” Freier is about to become the first female Hasidic Jewish judge in state history, after voters on Sept. 13 elected her to the bench of the Fifth Judicial district civil court, which includes Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge. The mother of six and Brooklyn Law School graduate is the founder of two charities as well as the all-female Hasidic emergency medical technician response group Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for “helping women.” Reporter Colin Mixson spoke to her about her historic appointment and some of the challenges she faced along the way.
Colin Mixson: You’ve got a big first under your belt. How does that feel?
Rachel Freier: I feel like I’m really speaking for many women like myself, who have done good things and worked hard, and that there are many religious women like me out there, but they just haven’t come to the public eye. So I feel like I have a mission and I’m an ambassador for so many other orthodox and Hasidic Jewish women.
CM: Why are you the first Hasidic Jewish woman to achieve this position?
RF: The part that sometimes works against women is we have a high priority of raising a family. So when you’re raising a family, and that comes first, you can have a second interest, but when it’s law or medicine it’s very difficult. I think for a woman to go to law school, whether you’re Jewish or not, any woman who wants to go to law school and raise a family is going to have the same challenges.
CM: Has becoming a professional success and then achieving this position as a judge put you at odds with anyone in the Hasidic community?
RF: It’s just the opposite. There’s an overflow of support. Wherever I go, people are telling me, ‘Now my daughter thinks differently about the future, and, ‘My wife thinks differently about the future.’ There’s an overwhelming amount of support from every aspect of the community. There were people telling me ‘I never voted in a primary before, this was the first time.’ People are so proud of being a part of making history.
CM: Between your family, legal practice, charity work, and now this appointment, is something going to give when you take your seat on the bench in January?
RF: There are lots of rules, and I’m becoming familiar with what I can and can’t do once I take the bench.
CM: So you’ll have to stop practicing law outside the court?
RF: That’s correct.
CM: And are you still very active with the charities you’ve created, or are you more hands-off at this point?
RF: Yes I am. I work with other volunteers, but [my charities] are important to me. It was actually my pro-bono work that propelled me into public service. It made me realize that I have such a passion for fairness and justice and that public service is really where I belong.
CM: On average, how many hours of sleep do you get a night?
RF: [Laughs] About five.
CM: When was the last time you were able to sleep in?
RF: I’m Hasidic, which means I’m observant and we observe the Sabbath, which is a day of rest, and, trust me, I rest that day. No cellphones, no beepers, no computers — it’s complete family and rest and prayer. I recharge my battery that day.