Brooklyn women fight to join Orthodox ambulance service

A group of Orthodox women in the Borough Park area of New York have sparked a debate in the community after they asked to be allowed to join a men-only Jewish volunteer ambulance service.

The women said they wanted to be involved in Hatzalah's operations, in order to help women going into labour or facing other emergencies.

But the suggested "women's division", to be called Ezras Nashim, has not been welcomed by all of Hatzalah's male recruits, because of the heavy gender separation that operates in the Chasidic community.

There is already an Ezras Nashim unit in the nearby Orthodox community of New Square, while In Israel, United Hatzalah has both male and female recruits, but the Borough Park division has so far blocked the possibility of doing the same.

Ruchy Freier, a lawyer involved in the creation of the Borough Park women's unit, said the plans would avoid embarrassment for women who had had a baby delivered by Hatzalah members.

"If they meet that Emergency Medical Technician or Hatzalah member, they will likely cross the street to avoid him," she told the website Voz is Neias. "We are all so proud of Hatzalah. We can't live without them. But the voice of the women now has to be heard."

Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind said the plan was "almost a no-brainer".

"We go to the nth degree for modesty, in this situation, it just makes sense."

But a member of Hatzalah's executive board said that introducing women was a bad idea.

"You don't fix something that isn't broken," said Heshy Jacobs, adding that "in a medical emergency, it is a proven fact that men have an advantage".

"We already have systems in place to get our responders in place as quickly as possible," he said. "By introducing women into the scenario, you are adding another layer to the process and you are talking about a situation where a delay of seconds can literally cost lives."

Last updated: 12:27pm, November 28 2011