A fire blazes through a garment factory. The building has too few exits and not enough fire escapes. Fire equipment cannot reach the fire. More than 100 people—many of them young women—die. Bodies, burnt beyond recognition, line the floor of a government building, awaiting identification.
If you’re thinking, “I know that story—it happened at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1911,” think again. Though the details fit the Triangle tragedy, the scene I’ve just described is the deadly fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, this past Saturday night.
In 1909, Jewish women revolutionized the American labor movement. Before the huge garment industry strike known as the “Uprising of the 20,000,” union leaders saw women workers as irrelevant to the labor movement because they did not fit into the model of the traditional male union member. But these garment workers, many of them young Jewish women, proved that women could, in fact, organize effectively and challenge working conditions, and in doing so, they expanded the definition of worker and union member.
Labor Day. In America, this holiday is more often associated with barbeques, sales, and the farewell to summer and white linen than with the contributions of workers. By design, it’s a less overtly political holiday than the workers’ holidays in Europe—the U.S. intentionally picked a day other than the International Workers’ Day of May 1st to avoid any whiff of radicalism.
Last week, I had the privilege of participating in a small, intense, and invigorating conference run by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute. Provocatively titled “Why Be Jewish?” this year’s conference focused on the state of pluralism in the Jewish community.
One hundred and ten years ago today, something surprising happened. Jewish immigrant housewives in New York City—concerned and angry about a sharp rise in the price of kosher meat from 12 cents to 18 cents per pound—launched a kosher meat boycott that lasted nearly a month, spread to several other boroughs of New York, sparked violent riots and arrests, and attracted much media attention before ending with the successful lowering of meat prices.
Happy May Day! Originally, May Day was a pagan springtime festival, roots of which survive in the traditions of flower-festooned maypoles and the crowning of the “Queen of the May.” Since the late 19th century, it has also been a workers’ holiday. Though in the US it has been officially replaced (and I would argue, coopted) by Labor Day in September, May Day remains an occasion for social protest of many kinds.
As a historian, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories -- what stories we tell about ourselves and the world, what stories aren't told, how our narratives change depending on context, mood, timing.
There’s been a lot of press about Rabbi Sharon Brous lately, since she became the first woman to crack the top 5 on the Newsweek America’s Top 50 Rabbis list. Of course, this wasn’t the first recognition of Brous for her work building IKAR, a vital and exciting Jewish community in Los Angeles; she’s already been recognized by the Forward, Jewish Women International, the Jewish Community Foundation of LA, and others, who herald her as a leader in reimagining Jewish life for the 21st century.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. " Judith Rosenbaum ." (Viewed on April 2, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/author/judith-rosenbaum>.