I tend to watch documentaries about topics I already know quite a bit (see all the environmental Hot Docs I’ve reviewed previously). However, sometimes the right film arrives and takes you out of your comfort zone. 93Queen tells the story of a woman who has had to fight to be heard, but even more importantly she has had to fight to be understood.

One of the problems in our world today is that you’re rarely allowed to be 2 things at once – you can either be a working mom OR a stay at home mom. One generally implies you’re better at being a mom, while not similarly implying that the other is good at work. It’s possible to be both at the same time – good at being a mom and good at working (while doing different amounts of time at either).

Mrs. Rachel “Ruchie” Freier spent many years proving she can be many things at the same time. Ruchie is part of the Hasidic Jewish community in Queens, which she firmly believes in. She has 6 children (3 boys, 3 girls), a relatively common number among her community. She is also a lawyer, an EMT, and now the first Hadisic woman in the US to hold public office. While it may be subjective whether she’s good at all these things, the fact that she IS all these things at the same time is what makes 93Queen, a new film by Paula Eiselt, so compelling to watch.

I knew very little about the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community in Queens. Ruchie explains a lot of the customs, but mostly as they have applied to her life. Women’s roles are respected within the community, but that means maintaining a home and family. It was unusual for Ruchie to be able to go to college, and law school with 6 children at home. Thankfully she has a husband who is very supportive of his smart and independent wife.

One of the other customs that is explained involves the idea that a woman only shares her body (viewing it, touching it, etc.) with her husband. That’s why most women wear wigs and tend to be very conservative (if very fashionable like Ruchie) in their dress. With so many babies in the community, childbirth is extremely common, it is baffling that there are only men on the Hatzalah (a Hasidic Ambulance squad). What Ruchie and her friends wanted was to help with EMT matters during childbirth – to help preserve that female modesty valued by the community. Since Hatzalah refused to let them join, she put her multi-tasking nature to work.

This is an amazing story. It’s not trying to say that a woman must be feminists, or that she shouldn’t be a mother that takes care of her home and husband. 93Queen is about being MORE than the role you’ve been assigned, not less.

Screens:
Sunday, April 29, 3 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Tuesday, May 1, 8:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Sunday, May 6, 8:45 PM, Hart House

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