April 16, 2010

A Fire’s Legacy

I was very interested in your April 9 article on the commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (“Triangle Fire Chalking Links a Shul to Its Past”).

I am a grandmother of almost 71 years of age, who grew up hearing stories about that fire from my grandmother, Rose Kaufman, who as a girl worked sewing lace onto ladies’ blouses in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. She said it was her first job when she came to New York from Romania in her early teens. She said that many of her friends worked there and that they got her the job.

On the fateful morning of the fire, my grandmother awoke with what must have been a stomach flu — she was vomiting and feverish — and, for the very first time since she began working there, she was unable to go into the factory. My mother — her daughter — said that when my grandmother later found out that so many of her friends died in the fire because they were locked inside, she was inconsolable for weeks after. She could not understand why she had she had been spared. Years later, she told my mother (who was then just a child) that she must have been saved so that she could bring my mother into this world for some special purpose.

I am sure it is just one of the many stories that are known to families who had relatives affected by the fire, but it followed me through my days of teaching public school students. When I would tell my students about why we have fire drills, I told them of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

Re-legitimizing Israel

Your April 9 story “Communal Groups Mobilize Against ‘Delegitimizers’ of Jewish State” discusses the organized Jewish community’s recent focus on combating those individuals and groups regarded as “delegitimizers” of Israel, including, in particular, promoters of BDS — boycott, divestment and sanctions.

While there are plenty of good reasons to challenge BDS — and to attribute less than salutary motives to some of its backers — might not the Jewish community more effectively target its efforts to support and protect Israel by working to mitigate some of the more obvious justifications asserted by the BDS movement? For example, the international community virtually unanimously views settlement expansion in the occupied territories, including the current building plans in East Jerusalem, as either illegal or, at a minimum, as a barrier to peace. Wouldn’t an immediate, comprehensive settlement freeze and a return to serious, substantive final-status negotiations, leading to safe, secure and viable homelands for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, with a shared Jerusalem, as part of a regional peace, better serve to promote Israel’s peace and prosperity, let alone its standing in the eyes of the world?

And if so, shouldn’t the Jewish community focus its resources and energies in that direction instead?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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April 16, 2010

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