Education

Mother of 10 Becomes One of Few Hasidic Female Doctors

Years in the past, Alexandra Friedman noticed a T-shirt bearing a message she by no means forgot: “Become the doctor your mother always wanted you to marry.”

It appeared like an unimaginable aim for a Hasidic girl in Monsey, N.Y., a predominantly Orthodox Jewish enclave some half-hour north of the town that’s house to some of the strictest Orthodox communities.

Many girls marry younger, and their lives revolve round caring for kids, talking Yiddish and abiding by rigid way of life and dress tips to stick to Hasidic traditions.


Ms. Friedman and her husband, Yosef, have 10 youngsters, ranging in age from an 8-month-old son to a 21-year-old daughter.

But final month, Dr. Friedman turned an anomaly in Monsey by graduating from medical college and acquiring a residency in pediatrics. Her commencement makes her one of the few feminine Hasidic medical doctors within the nation, mentioned Dr. Miriam A. Knoll, president of the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association.

“It’s unusual for medical students to have any children, let alone 10 children,” Dr. Knoll mentioned. “So to come from a conservative background and have that many children, you’re fighting an uphill battle, one that just takes extraordinary drive and commitment.”

When Dr. Friedman started fascinated with medical college 5 years in the past, even her greatest associates had doubts. One of them, a mom of 14 youngsters, thought Dr. Friedman’s already busy schedule as a spouse and mom would by no means permit her to deal with the pains of medical college. Another urged her to turn out to be a retailer cashier as a substitute.

Dr. Friedman believed that pursuing drugs would increase her spirituality, not detract from it.

“In Judaism, there’s a belief that if you don’t use the gifts given to you by God, you’re not really honoring God,” she mentioned in a latest interview.

Even whereas scuffling with the arduous tutorial calls for over the previous 4 years, she met the home obligations anticipated of an ultra-Orthodox mom. She continued tending to her youngsters and avoided learning on Jewish holidays and on the Sabbath, every Friday night by Saturday night.

None of her obligations appeared to harm her grades or maintain her from graduating on time inside 4 years, and she or he even gave start throughout her research to 3 youngsters: her 8-month-old, Aharon; and her 3-year-old twin women, Mimi and Layla.

She graduated first academically of the 135 college students in her class at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, N.Y.

Dr. Friedman was not at all times Hasidic. As the daughter of a U.S. Army common, she was half of a secular Jewish household that moved across the nation rather a lot.

She thought-about herself a feminist — and nonetheless does — and earned a bachelor’s diploma in biology. In her 20s, she started medical college however dropped out and developed an curiosity in Orthodox Judaism, following its strict tips and avoiding many distractions of the surface world.

She studied Yiddish and commenced sporting a wig and modest, full-length clothes. She stopped driving and having casual conversations with males and even trying them within the eye. Smartphones and the web have been off-limits.

In 2008, after she had moved to a Hasidic part of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to review at a Hasidic seminary, she met Yosef Friedman, a widower with two daughters from his earlier marriage. They married and finally settled in Monsey.

After having a number of youngsters, her thoughts turned again to her medical training.

“Being religious was kind of a full-time job, but once I got the hang of motherhood and Orthodox life, that yearning sort of came back,” mentioned Dr. Friedman, who approached her non secular mentor, Rabbi Aharon Kohn, and requested him in her still-imperfect Yiddish for steerage.

Both realized that medical college can be doubly difficult for a mom from Monsey. The Hasidim in Monsey largely deal with judicial points amongst themselves, store at Jewish shops and ship their youngsters to non secular faculties.

Also, there would inevitably be clashes between tutorial necessities and Hasidic tips. Dr. Friedman would wish to make use of the web and work together with male college students, lecturers and medical doctors. What if emergency medical therapy lasted into Shabbos? And since Hasidic girls are discouraged from driving, how would she even get there?

Touro’s sensitivity to Orthodox college students, she mentioned, made it “an easier sale” to the rabbi, who recounted a narrative about how his grandfather, additionally a rabbi, as soon as urged a lady in Israel to turn out to be a midwife to assist different Hasidic girls.

He in the end agreed, even after Dr. Friedman questioned if her good friend was proper about her changing into a cashier as a substitute.

“He said absolutely not — he wanted me to be of service to my community,” mentioned Dr. Friedman, who interviewed for admission to medical college 4 days after giving start to the couple’s seventh baby.

Dr. Friedman’s new path raised eyebrows in her tightly knit Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.

“People would say, ‘What? You’re going to medical school?’ and I’d say, ‘The rabbi said it was OK,’” she recalled whereas sitting just lately in her neat two-story house in a leafy part of Monsey.

She sat close to cabinets bearing a shofar and a menorah. Scattered on the ground have been youngsters’s toys. The household was packing for his or her upcoming transfer to Boca Raton, Fla., to start her residency.

As a medical scholar, Dr. Friedman started assuming a sorely wanted function advising Hasidic feminine acquaintances who had restricted data on medical points however many questions — starting from menstrual and infertility points to how gynecological therapy comported with Jewish regulation and cultural tips concerning modesty.

“People became excited to have a woman who understands the community and understands medicine,” mentioned Dr. Friedman When Monsey turned a coronavirus sizzling spot final year, she started fielding calls from associates searching for extra up to date data than Yiddish weekly newspapers offered.

(*10*) she mentioned.

She urged associates early on to put on masks, and in latest months, as extra calls have are available in concerning vaccination for the virus, she has beneficial getting the photographs.

She and her husband each contracted the virus final year however skilled no severe signs, she mentioned.

Mr. Friedman, 50, who makes minimal wage as an aide for sufferers with disabilities, mentioned the household has lived paycheck to paycheck to afford medical college and relied on varied scholarships. Student mortgage money typically helped pay the hire.

“Every obstacle seems to get blown out of the way,” mentioned Mr. Friedman, who acquired a dean’s award from Touro for being a supportive partner. “It makes me realize that this was just meant to be. This is what she’s meant to do.”

He started working nights with the intention to have a tendency the youngsters throughout the day.

Far from being a distraction, Dr. Friedman mentioned her busy household life offered stability and stress aid from the tense calls for of learning for boards and exams.

Instead of hitting the library together with her fellow college students, she studied at house together with her youngsters round her. They quizzed her with flash playing cards and adorned her anatomy and surgical procedure textbooks with brightly coloured stickers. They watched her observe her sutures earlier than bedtime.

While in labor for 12 hours together with her twin women, now age 3, she studied for the microbiology half of the board examination.

“It kept my mind off the contractions,” she mentioned.

While the web is usually discouraged among the many Hasidim as overexposure to the secular world, Dr. Friedman secured the rabbi’s permission to purchase a laptop computer and get web service put in to entry medical data and examine guides that fellow college students shared on social media. She bought a smartphone for college-required apps on surgical procedures.

She additionally obtained rabbinical approval to drive the household automobile herself, however her husband continued to drive her out of their speedy neighborhood, then hop out and stroll house, to keep away from upsetting her Orthodox neighbors.

She continued to put on her wig throughout surgical procedures, however Rabbi Kohn agreed she may change the normal Hasidic head scarf with a surgical cap and put on scrub pants coated with a disposable surgical robe.

Shaking fingers with male colleagues was nonetheless discouraged, however the rabbi agreed that unintentional and needed contact with male medical doctors throughout surgical procedure was permissible, as was trying them within the eye throughout medical discussions.

When college students started working towards osteopathic manipulations on each other in massive lessons, Dr. Friedman secured a feminine associate and wore full clothes as a substitute of shorts and a sports activities bra like different feminine college students.

Rabbi Moshe Krupka, govt vice-president of the Touro College and University System, known as Dr. Friedman a “poster child” for Touro’s emphasis on supporting specific wants of college students from numerous backgrounds.

But Dr. Friedman’s largest supporter was Rabbi Kohn.

Last June, he died from Covid-19 at age 69.

In September when her youngest baby was born, Dr. Friedman honored the rabbi who inspired her medical college dream by naming her son after him: Aharon.

“The last thing he told me,” she mentioned, “was, ‘Don’t quit.’”


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