A Hasidic woman by the name of Alexandra Friedman is married to her husband, Yosef, and the two share 10 children, ranging from an 8-month-old son to a 21-year-old daughter. Oh, and she is a doctor.
Just last month, Friedman graduated medical school and obtained a residency in pediatrics. Dr. Friedman’s graduation makes her one of the few Female Hasidic doctors in the country — according to the president of the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association, Dr. Miriam A. Knoll.
“It’s unusual for medical students to have any children, let alone 10 children,” Dr. Knoll said. “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 was toying with the idea of going to medical school around five years ago, her best friends had their doubts. One of them, a mother of 14, thought Dr. Friedman’s schedule was busy enough as it was, while another urged her to become a store cashier instead.
But Dr. Friedman believed that pursuing medicine would only add to her spirituality.
“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 said in a recent interview.
And while meeting the academic demands over the past four years, she also handled the domestic responsibilities expected of an ultra-Orthodox mother with ease. She continued to look after her children and refrained from studying on Jewish holidays and on the Sabbath, each Friday evening through Saturday evening.
Her family did not detract from her grades or keep her from graduating on time within four years. She even gave birth during her studies to three children: her 8-month-old, Aharon; and her 3-year-old twin girls, Mimi and Layla.
She graduated first academically of the 135 students in her class at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Middletown, N.Y.
“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,” said Dr. Friedman, who asked her religious mentor, Rabbi Aharon Kohn, for guidance.
When she asked Kohn if she should pursue a different path, he urged her to continue on.
“He said absolutely not — he wanted me to be of service to my community,” said Dr. Friedman, who interviewed for admission to medical school four days after giving birth to the couple’s seventh child. As a medical student, Dr. Friedman began filling a vital role in advising Hasidic female acquaintances with limited information on medical issues but many questions.
“People became excited to have a woman who understands the community and understands medicine,” said Dr. Friedman.
Mr. Friedman, 50, who makes minimum wage as an aide for patients with disabilities, admitted the family has lived paycheck to paycheck to afford medical school and relied on various scholarships, while at times, student loan money helped pay the rent.
“Every obstacle seems to get blown out of the way,” said Mr. Friedman, who received a dean’s award from Touro for being a supportive spouse. “It makes me realize that this was just meant to be. This is what she’s meant to do.”
And he believed it so much that he began working nights so he could take care of the kids during the day.
Dr. Friedman said her busy family life helped with stress relief from tireless studying. She preferred studying at home with her children around her, who would quiz her and decorate her textbooks with stickers. And when she was in labor for 12 hours with her twin girls, she studied for the microbiology part of the board exam.
“It kept my mind off the contractions,” she said.
And in September when her youngest child was born, Dr. Friedman honored the rabbi who encouraged her medical school dream by naming her son after him; Aharon.
“The last thing he told me,” she said, “was, ‘Don’t quit.’”
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