Haredi women around the world on the frontlines of coronavirus fight

'I have volunteered several times at the 'Drive Thru' testing complex in Bnei Brak, and it was a privilege for me to take part in the national struggle against the spread of the virus'

EZRAS NASHIM women are hard at work in this still from ‘93 Queen,’ which will play on Yes Docu and StingTV at 10 p.m. this Sunday. (photo credit: Courtesy)
EZRAS NASHIM women are hard at work in this still from ‘93 Queen,’ which will play on Yes Docu and StingTV at 10 p.m. this Sunday.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Haredi women in both the US and Israel have joined the frontlines of the coronavirus fight as their communities are heavily affected by the outbreak.
In Israel, Haredi women from the Bnei Brak area have found time to volunteer at Magen David Adom (MDA) while also working and raising children. Racheli Danhi, 30, Naomi Knoll, 28, Ora Shafer, 33, and Miri Shulman, 26, described to MDA why they joined the organization in taking samples and evacuating confirmed patients to hospitals and inpatient hotels.
"It has always been a dream to volunteer for MDA," said Danhi, a mother of three who works in tele-banking. "Growing up in a home where giving is of utmost value, and as I have always been attracted to the medical world, I viewed MDA as heroes. I believe that everyone has something good that he can do for others, and I found it in volunteering at Magen David Adom and saving lives."
Knoll, a mother of two children and a psychology student, decided to take the EMT course provided by MDA after becoming a mother and began volunteering every week on an ambulance. She began volunteering at the 101 Emergency Call Center once the coronavirus outbreak began, as well.
"My family has been very supportive of me from the beginning, helping me with the children and doing everything so I can succeed," said Knoll, describing "a particularly exciting moment" when one of her sons in kindergarten, was "proud to tell his friends in the kindergarten that his mother was volunteering on ambulances."
Shafer, a mother of a 9-year-old girl and an employee at a tech company, decided "not to give up on my dream of caring for people and saving lives" and participated in MDA's EMT course. She is now an ambulance driver and volunteer almost every week.
"I think there is a real need for more and more ultra-orthodox women to work in the medical field," said Shafer. "It is important first of all for our self-development, but not least for the cases where women in the sector need medical care, and feel much more comfortable that a woman will take care of them."
Shulman, mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a personal assistant to the CEO, explained that the medical world has always been "intriguing" to her.
"My daughter was born at week 29, and my medical knowledge gave me a lot of confidence in coping with her condition, both initially at the hospital and later when we returned home with her,” said Shulman. “With full support from the family, I have volunteered several times at the 'Drive Thru' testing complex in Bnei Brak, and it was a privilege for me to take part in the national struggle against the spread of the virus."
The largely haredi city of Bnei Brak and haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem and other cities were epicenters for the coronavirus outbreak in Israel and were put under localized lockdowns in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, New York, the Ezras Nashim organization has been working to provide medical care and information about the coronavirus to the haredi community in Boro Park and beyond.
Ezras Nashim serves to train women as EMTs so that they can assist other women in emergency situations in an environment that maximizes the patient's comfort and dignity.
Judge Rachel Freier, a born and raised resident of Boro Park, stressed that the haredi community was late in receiving essential information about the severity of the virus, according to Makor Rishon.
Freier added that she read up on the virus and was extremely worried and tried explaining the severity of the virus to her community, but that she "was just a private individual" who didn't have the position to tell leaders and doctors what to do. The lack of information caused the situation in the haredi community to become "much more severe and destructive," according to Freier.
At the moment, Ezras Nashim is only operating in Brooklyn. "We want to do a lot much, but meanwhile this is what's possible. We have about 50 members in the organization, mostly women, but also a few men who help us out," explained Freier to Makor Rishon.
"Like every other health organization, we're dealing with quite a few issues in these difficult times," said Freier, adding that as elderly and at-risk volunteers were forced to stay at home, newly trained volunteers have been forced to join the frontlines very soon after they've finished their EMT training.
Ezras Nashim has been in a years long legal battle to obtain an ambulance license, which has made operating during the coronavirus crisis even more difficult. Usually, the Ezras Nashim volunteers would arrive at the scene in private vehicles and a city ambulance would arrive as backup to the scene as well. The organization has now been left without that backup as people are asked not to arrive at hospitals except for in emergency situations, placing volunteers at organizations like Ezras Nashim in dangerous situations where they could be infected.
"The current crisis proves how much an organization like ours is essential, especially in days that all forces are in full operation. This is a heartbreaking situation for me, because I know that we could have helped many more people if we had an ambulance," said Freier to Makor Rishon.
Since courts in New York are currently closed, Freier is working around the clock at the organization, making sure that they can provide treatment to those that they're able to and to help those that they can't treat find the appropriate care.
"If [I can help], I cover myself in protective gear with gloves and mask and go out to do the best I can. It's difficult to arrive at homes, to see the patient and the worried family. Unfortunately, the situation in the community is very distressing right now," said Freier. "Many people have died, many are sick, everyone knows someone who's been affected by the virus, and we need to give strength and to encourage these people."
Ezras Nashim is working especially hard to provide care and comfort to expecting mothers, amid concerns about arriving to the hospital and being able to receive the appropriate care.
"In the situation of life and death, there's no time to think about what's good or not, everyone is helping everyone. But we still need more women to help in emergency situations. I hope that, G-d willing, we will stay strong, get better and the community will understand the importance of women in emergency medical care," said Freier. "At the moment, we're doing the best possible and helping everyone who contacts us, even men, with our limited resources. We need to recruit more women and funds in order to help our organization to grow and survive."
Even with the coronavirus crisis, Ezras Nashim has succeeded in recruiting 40 young women who aren't able to train at the moment and have instead helped represent the organization and raise funds.
Freier's daughter, Leah, told Makor Rishon that the organization is being contacted everyday with requests to join the organization and messages of support. "At the moment there's an issue with everything that has to do with new EMT courses," said Leah, explaining that a course with new volunteers is currently continuing on Zoom, but the certification test has been suspended, meaning that the new volunteers can't receive certification in the meantime.
As of Saturday, 2,565 cases had been reported in the main 11219 ZIP code of Boro Park. 3,194 cases were reported throughout Williamsburg, another neighborhood in New York City with a large haredi population. It is unclear how many of the reported cases were haredim.