I wrote an article about an all women’s ambulance service starting in Hasidic Boro Park, and the editor wanted it to be really straight reportage, so I had to delete this scene which I thought was simply wonderful.  YOU’RE WELCOME, PEOPLE:

On the gray, slushy afternoon of December 23rd, 2012, twenty-six women from all over Brooklyn gather in the cafeteria of a religious girls’ school in Borough Park. They are there to attend a meeting of Ezras Nashim, a nascent ambulance service staffed only by women that plans to serve female members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park, and eventually all of Brooklyn. On the medicinal pink walls are crinkled posters of Biblical scenes and an advertisement for a book called Seams and Souls: A Dressing, Altering and Sewing Guide for the Modest Woman. The women trickle in one by one, many after the meeting was set to begin. They greet each other warmly and inquire about the paperwork being handed around. “You’re so good, saying your tehillim!” one woman coos to another. Finally, a small but commanding lady, Rachel Freier, takes the stage.

Freier gives everyone a rundown of the latest developments. Despite the fact that the hospital training session at North Shore–LIJ, slated for three months prior, has been postponed indefinitely, other initiatives are chugging along. The group is officially a 501(c)3, which will help enormously when it comes to applying for much-needed funding. (Any money donated, she points out, counts as tzedekah.) There’s a hush in the room when Freier mentions a former member of the group who first introduced the idea of abuse awareness. “We are going to be mandated reporters, and we have to take this very seriously, “ Freier says. “We are also working under my law license.” An older woman wearing a black hat comments in a hushed tone from the sideline, where she sits knitting. Freier, consummately poised and efficient in her speech, reminds everyone that they must submit their immunization records immediately, at which point members of the audiences cry out excuses.

By way of a pep talk, Freier reminds the women that they are all “pioneers.” “Keep on davening that we should be successful!”

At the end of her speech, she introduces Sally Mendelsohn as the meeting’s guest speaker. Mendelsohn, a former faculty member at the graduate school of Midwifery at NYU, looks very chic, with her buzz cut salt-and-pepper hair and her all-black outfit reminiscent of Funny Face. In one hand she carries a cloth black baby doll, in the other a copy of a book titled Emergency Childbirth, written specifically, she says, for firefighters. She uses the baby doll to illustrate the four stages of labor in chronological order, focusing on the things that might have been glossed over, or absent entirely, from the course textbook the women would have used in their EMT class. She lists things they might need when attending to a woman giving birth, such as newspapers, a bowl (“for the placenta”) or plastic sheets, to which one woman enthusiastically responds, “Every frum home has a plastic tablecloth!”

The audience is slightly unruly, interrupting often with questions and personal anecdotes, requesting that Mendelsohn explain any anomalous situation that could possibly arise. She patiently steers them back toward the doll––acquired during her summers working with NGOs in Rwanda––which is now descending down the birth canal. She tells them how to slip in their hands to tie the cord.

“If you don’t have a clamp…”

“Dental floss?” someone offers.


“Oy vey.”

As the meeting comes to a close, the women in the audience rush to ask Mendelsohn about pre-eclampsia, twins, and all sorts of fluids. Sally brings up an image of a water-intact membrane sac on her iPad. Women in sheitels and snoods flock to her side to see the picture. One of them tells the story of a trying birth, then lays her head affectionately on Sally’s shoulder. “Where were you when I needed you?”


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