Rachel "Ruchie" Freier, an attorney, grassroots community organizer, and member of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, started her work as a civil court judge in Brooklyn on Tuesday. She is believed to be the first Hasidic woman ever elected to public office in the United States.
Freier was elected to preside over the 5th Judicial District in King's County after a three-way Democratic primary race this past fall—a win heralded as "a step for the ultra-Orthodox community at large" by her campaign co-manager and New York political fixture Yossi Gestetner, who spoke with the Associated Press this week.
Freier, 51, has been a longtime trailblazer in New York's Hasidic community, where—in addition to her career as an attorney—she helped found a series of non-profit organizations, including Ezras Nashim, an all-female, all-volunteer EMT company that serves the largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn.
At her swearing-in ceremony in late December, Freier acknowledged what some might see as the tension between her roots in an ultra-Orthodox community and her new role as a judge, telling those assembled, "the two can go hand in hand."
Freier also pledged to use her role to shed light on the often misunderstood world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, promising her new colleagues, "I will teach you about the mysterious Hasidic world, often shrouded in secrecy with many misconceptions."
"One of the misconceptions that there are is about women," she added. "And I hope to clear that up."
On hand for Freier's swearing-in was Lipa Schmeltzer, a popular musician in New York's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, who regaled attendees with a Yiddish version of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."
According to the Associated Press, Freier's uncle was also a judge. But as a woman coming out of a strict religious community, her new role carries a particular significance.
"As a result of the vision of the founding fathers of this great country, I was able to maintain the standards of a woman from the Hasidic community and achieve the position of civil court judge,” Freier told those gathered at her swearing-in. “For this I thank God, and I thank America, and I pray that God continues to bless America"