Pekuach Nefesh: A Gaslighting Story


Paula Eiselt is an award-winning filmmaker. She is drawn to stories that give rise to the disruption of systems, policies and strong-held narratives. Paula is currently an artist in residence at Laurene Powell Jobs and Davis Guggenheim’s Concordia Studio where she is developing her next feature film. 

Below is draft testimony by Paula Eiselt, a variant of which was delivered at the SEMSCO hearing on July 8, 2020.

My name is Paula Eiselt and I am the director and producer of 93Queen, a feature length documentary that followed the formation and launch of Ezras Nashim. 

93QUEEN premiered at the 2018 Hot Docs International Canadian Film Festival followed by an Academy Award qualifying national theatrical release by Abramorama in over 25 U.S. cities, including a six week hold over at New York City’s IFC Center. 93QUEEN was broadcast nationally and internationally on PBS’s POV (a cinema term for “point of view”), ARTE in France and Germany, UR in Sweden (Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company), yes DocU in Israel, and Canada’s CBC. To date, 93QUEEN has played at over 70 film festivals, nearly 100 community screenings worldwide and was selected to be included in the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase. 93QUEEN also won the prestigious Hot Docs first look pitch prize.

People from all of the world – literally – have been inspired and empowered by the work of Ezras Nashim. Locally women have reached out to me from Brooklyn and other sectors of the Orthodox community to express thanks for creating a platform for this crucial need in women’s healthcare. 

As I followed Ezras Nashim for 5 years, I saw first-hand through interviewing women who have been helped by Ezras Nashim just how dire the need for this service is. I received countless messages of support for Ezras Nashim. So much so that I was invited to address Orthodox women on Long Island who are forming their own chapter. That’s how great the need is.

But let’s be honest, we are not here today because the need is in doubt – two impartial parties – the REMSCO (Regional Emergency Medical Services Council) hearing officer and the STEMSCO (State Emergency Medical Services Council) administrative judge – both gave the opinion that there is need. This is not about an ambulance. This is about power and perpetuating a system of intimidation.

I witnessed that intimidation as I filmed how difficult it was for Ezras Nashim to obtain medical supplies because suppliers feared Hatzolah. I was told that Hatzolah was threatening hospitals to withhold training services to Ezras Nashim. I’ve gotten voicemails from angry members asking me how I will answer to God for giving Ezras Nashim a platform.

On the flip side, I’ve had Hatzolah members approach me after screenings insisting the leadership does not represent them – they think Ezras Nashim is great. Again, this is about the Hatzolah leadership retaining power and control.

This is about so much more than need and, frankly, Haztolah is taking this committee for fools by trying to convince you there is no need. They are gaslighting women’s health, dignity and modesty. 

I’ll leave you with this thought: In the time of Covid19, why on earth would Hatzolah – or anyone! – be trying to prevent more access to healthcare? The needs for healthcare right now are unprecedented – so much so that governor Cuomo has lifted restrictions for healthcare professionals and has made it easier to serve. Hatzolah is doing the exact opposite by trying to withhold care and prevent an ambulance from operating when we need it most. It’s unfathomable and extremely suspect that we are forced to be meeting here in the midst of a pandemic about whether or not there is a need for an ambulance that has been recommended twice. The unprecedented demand for this hearing shows a great disrespect for everyone’s time, and an extreme sense of entitlement. Ask yourselves what you are really being asked to do today with your vote. 


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