Rachel “Ruchie” Freier was the first Hasidic woman to be elected a civil court judge in New York. That is just one of many accomplishments for this mother of six who blows away preconceived ideas about what religious Jews can accomplish in the secular world.
Freier also formed B’Derech, a nonprofit that helps provide education for adolescents in the Hasidic community. And she became a paramedic after she helped found Ezras Nashim, an all-women’s volunteer EMT service. What unites her various roles is a desire to serve God, she says, and that’s what keeps her rooted in her religious upbringing.
In our interview, she discusses the changing public perception of Hasidim and relations between religious and secular Jews.
There have been a string of books and TV series on Jews who have rejected Hasidism. What do you think of the negative portrayal of Hasidism in the media?
That’s a great question, and it’s always bothered me going back years ago. I think now that there’s so much social media and so much more access, Hasidim are coming forward and opening up. A little bit of that misunderstanding has been cleared. When people choose to be insular—and for good reasons—these are going to be the side effects of insularity. While there’s a lot of good to be done when you want to insulate your family and your children from outside forces, there’s some information that the outside should get to know.
You are the first Hasid to serve in many of your roles. Do you feel pressure to represent all Hasidim in public life?
I always make it very clear that I just speak for myself. But when I speak my own opinion, it opens up a lot of windows and doors that were shut previously. So, it wasn’t like some umbrella agency said, “Ruchie here is our representative. Listen to what she’s saying because she is the voice of the people.” No, and the fact that I’m not any official representative gives me much more latitude to sit down on the sofa and just talk and share things without thinking about what my boss wants me to say. I only have to answer to God.”
Are you stretching what is considered acceptable for women to accomplish in your community? And do you face any kind of backlash?
It depends on what capacity. I do many things in terms of serving in law and being a judge. I don’t have backlash for that. In my volunteer work, where I created a volunteer EMS agency for women, I have backlash. It depends on who you’re referring to because people have to understand that Hasidim are not monolithic. We don’t always agree on everything. And that’s perfectly fine.
You have six children, grandchildren, and a full career and public life. What is the secret to juggling it all?
One thing I have is a very supportive husband and a supportive mother. If you don’t have the support of your family, of your loved ones, then you’re really climbing an uphill battle. That’s what makes it possible. And the other thing is I pray a lot. I’m doing this with the intention only of creating a kiddush Hashem, to sanctify God’s name. That’s my only goal. I don’t do this for any financial gain. I do it because I feel that the more we understand each other, the more bridges can be made. I speak to diverse audiences, and they always say, by the time I finish speaking, that we have more in common that unites us than that which divides us.
That’s one of the themes of the Z3. What is the state of relations now between religious and secular Jews right now?
As time has gone on, and the Hasidim have multiplied and become a larger population, we’re more open to understanding that while we’re insular, there are segments of society that we can participate in. We see they have gone on to college and have gone out to work. They can’t be ignored anymore. Maybe in the past generation, we were dealing with Holocaust survivors, and they were happy just rebuilding and sticking together as a tight-knit community. Now, as third-generation Americans, we are participating more in the American system in a good way.
How does your background in Judaism impact the decisions you make in a legal setting?
What’s really interesting is the court itself is always looking for diversity on the bench, And the reason for that is to have a bench that’s more understanding of the people that we serve. Everybody’s a human being with their own unique background—whether it’s someone on the bench with a strong Jewish background or a Catholic background. The fact that I have a religious upbringing helps the bench with the Torah values of pursuing justice. And the Mishnah is replete with admonishing judges on how they have to behave. The religious values that I was raised with give me the foundation that I need to be the best judge that I can be.
You mentioned that you speak to a diverse group of people in your work. What do you think unites us all as Jews?
What unites us, first of all, is our heritage, that we’re one nation. And no matter how you look at another person, at the end of the day, that’s one very important part that unites us. But what happens is there’s so much fluff that gets in the way. The typical thing that I’m going to hear from anybody who doesn’t really know Hasidim is, “They don’t work.” I know so many people who really work hard to make a living. It’s one of these statements that have been passed down for decades. They also say, “They don’t like us. They hate us.” How do you know? You ever invite someone to your home for a Shabbos dinner and try to be friendly? Maybe if you were friendly, you’d get a different reaction. Sometimes, stereotypes and politics get in the way. That’s why I like the Z3 concept. Take them out of where they’re always sitting, put them in a different place, put them together, and say, “Talk. Just start talking.” And it may just change the way you think.
The post Rachel Freier is one unusual woman: civil court judge, parademic, Hasid and mother of 6 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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