“Feminism is not a one-size-fits-all,” filmmaker Paula Eiselt muses to encore last week. “So [feminism is] not going to look the same in North Carolina as it does in Afghanistan or Norway. It takes different forms because women are coming from different places.”
While some across the globe simply want the right to go to school, others work twice as hard as their male counterparts, only to earn 30% less than a man for the same job. In her 2018 documentary “93Queen”— screening at the Wilmington Jewish Film Festival on May 8, 7 p.m., at Thalian Hall—Eiselt introduces audiences to the women of Ezras Nashim, the first all-female ambulance corps in New York City.
“It’s about feminism,” Eiselt iterates, “but the theme in the heart of the film is change from within—how communities, especially conservative communities, change from the bottom up. So it’s telling a different way of how change is done.”
In Borough Park, Brooklyn’s Hasidic community—a society where most women don’t drive—resides a branch of Hatzolah. It’s the largest volunteer ambulance corps in the world and serves mostly Jewish communities. Of course, there’s 9-1-1 but everyone calls Hatzolah when there’s an health-care emergency.
“Hatzolah is an amazing organization,” Eiselt praises. “They save hundreds of thousands of lives . . . particularly in New York City. They’re everywhere and they respond to all calls, not just for Jewish people. I hadn’t really thought of them as anything other than amazing—and then I learn there’s a huge flaw: Women are actively banned from serving in any capacity whatsoever.”
Eiselt’s uncle is Hasidic, so when she heard about the women of Ezras Nashim, she knew something bigger was on the horizon. She noticed the women were not taking “no” for an answer.
“They were being defiant in a really powerful all-male organization within a patriarchy,” she adds. “And here they were pushing back. . . . Change was really happening.”
“93Queen” follows Ezras Nashim founder Rachel “Ruchie” Freier in the organization’s first year of establishing itself, despite cultural and political obstacles. Freier carries the authority indicative of her background as a lawyer. She’s also a mother of six. While set in what might be an unfamiliar world of an orthodox Jewish community, according to Eiselt, like all good documentaries, “93Queen” takes audiences to an unexpected place because the story is universal in its reach.
“It’s the same story that’s happening for women all across the country and all across the world,” Eiselt tells. “This is women fighting for space in an area where people don’t want to give them space.”
At the end of the day, “93Queen” is about women’s rights, women’s health care and how a woman chooses her own health care provider. As the Hatzolah corps is made up of all men—mostly male neighbors women don’t even say hello to—some women are afraid to call.
“Let’s say they’re having a baby,” Eiselt offers, “or they fell in the shower, and there’s 10 familiar men they know, helping them; it can be very traumatic and women who have died because [they’re] too scared to call for help. So it’s really vital women are in the space. And it just goes back to health care and choice of women having dignified health care and making their own decisions.”
Though her film caught the attention of PBS, it took Eiselt seven years to finish “93Queen.” It wasn’t as simple as going into the Hasidic community with a camera and capturing a moment in gender equality. Secular film is considered taboo amongst Hasidic communities.
“[Hasidic] people do not see movies,” Eiselt clarifies. “They do not engage in secular media, and they’re definitely not in films. . . . So to get access was very difficult. But the way I had access was because of my orthodox background . . . I was telling the story from within. That was something that made everyone very comfortable.”
Eiselt also wants to destigmatize and unravel stereotypes about Hasidic communities, too—especially in national public media, where there isn’t a lot of positive representation or stories covered. Most recently in the news, New York’s orthodox Jewish community is battling measles outbreaks where unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations are represented. While respecting and remaining sensitive to Hasidic culture, Eiselt wants her film to show another side of their often underrepresented community.
“Here was a chance to balance it out,” she continues. “Giving women who are a force a platform where they don’t have any: They don’t have a voice in a Jewish conversation. They’re not visible and nobody hears from them. So to give them this amazing national and international platform was something I was really committed to, and the women felt strongly enough about showing a different side to their community.”
Wilmington Jewish Film Festival
April 28-May 8
310 Chestnut St.
All-Festival Pass: $85
WJFF Art Show
Jewish Art Journeys:
An Exhibit of Original Paintings
April 28-May 8
Art in Bloom
210 Princess St.
The Last Suit
April 28, 3 p.m.
April 29, 7 p.m.
May 1, 7 p.m.
Heading Home: Tale of Team Israel
May 5, 2 p.m.
May 5, 7 p.m.
Promise at Dawn
May 6, 7 p.m.
May 8, 7 p.m.