A licensed attorney, mother, grandmother, and former Borough Park community board member, Rachel “Ruchie” Freier recently became the first Chassidic woman elected as a Civil Court judge in the 5th District. Today, we had a chance to catch up with Freier, whose term will be starting in January.
For those who don’t know, what are your responsibilities and powers as Civil Court Judge?
The jurisdiction of the Civil Court judge is specifically whenever the amount in dispute is $25,000 or less. Then there are a lot of other matters that are given to the Civil Court from the Supreme Court. It involves lots of consumer debt cases — credit card companies who are suing for nonpayment of credit card bills — as well as mortgage foreclosures.
How are you keeping busy until your term starts in January?
Right now I’m involved in my work as an attorney and I’m very active in my pro-bono practice. That involves being the director of a women’s EMS agency. I also work with at-risk youth in my community.
What is your work with at-risk youth like?
So basically what would happen is people would approach me whether it’s mothers or the kids themselves. My program is quite popular among people who are even not at-risk. It’s a GED program called Derech. The idea is to keep kids on the right path.
What do you feel is the most important part of holding this position? Your favorite part?
One of the things about the Civil Court is that it’s known as the people’s’ court as many people it represents don’t have an attorney. I believe my experience in pro-bono advocacy improves my ability to work with people who can’t afford legal representation. I feel that my experience as a pro-bono attorney really heightens my experience as a litigant.
Has your family been encouraging of you seeking, and now holding, office?
Extremely. My campaign became a family campaign. My husband my children were really proud of it. My cousins all volunteered to help me as well.
How are things coming at your all-female EMT organization, Ezras Nashim?
Volunteers are trained as EMTs, and if they volunteer, they take shifts. We respond to calls by woman who are looking for prehospital medical care. My involvement with it started in 2011 when women who were trained as EMTs contacted me as a pro-bono advocate to advocate on their behalf. Before they contacted me I had no intention of becoming an EMT or being trained medically.
When I realized what a difficult challenge they faced, it was then that I decided I had to get myself trained. So I first went on to become an EMT, which involves about 150 hours of training. It was an amazing course. I was in school last year for a year to become a paramedic, and that involved over a year of training.
How does it feel to be the first Chassidic woman to hold this position?
It’s very exciting and it’s a humbling experience because I wasn’t prepared for the sensation it created. I had no idea it would create this sensation. From my community and from outside my community. I’m coming to realize that I’m not representing just myself but other woman as well. Woman now realize that you can be this without compromising any other values. I wanted to be able to do it by keeping my values and standards in tact.
It’s not mutually exclusive: raising a large family and pursuing an outside interest. My family is always the primary interest, and that’s why it took me so many years. It was exactly 20 years ago I decided to go to college. I started college at the age of 30.