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Allyson Mattanah

Allyson Mattanah had long wanted to be a teacher, but describes being “derailed several times” from pursuing her true passion to educate kids. While working as a registered nurse, Mattanah obtained a certificate to teach elementary education but was daunted by the challenges that teachers face in their classrooms. “In the Emergency Room where I worked,” she wrote to JWA, “I could restore a patient’s flailing heartbeat, inject muscle tissue with aplomb, triage a sick child, even assist a doctor in pulling debris from a patient’s eye or guts—but I could not imagine being able to calm a classroom of 13 year old children who had lived a life of poverty, as I had seen a teacher do in one of my placements in a public middle school.”

Since her career change to law, Mattanah has been following her dream of teaching “in baby steps.” What began as a volunteer position on her congregation’s school committee transformed into a role as the Committee Chair, and Mattanah led the Kesher school to restructure following a “Montessori-inspired approach” that meets the needs of the small, vibrant community. Staff turnover led her down yet another path as the educator and guide for the Kesher School’s 4-6 grade class, where she has been teaching since 2008.

For her 2012 award-winning lesson, Mattanah used material from, including photos, biographies, original letters and speeches, to help her 4–6 graders learn about Clara Lemlich Shavelson, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman—Jewish women who were instrumental in the struggle for workers' rights. Of her lesson, she says “I, as their guide, am in the background of their work. The students construct their own experience of the content provided.”

Lesson Plan: Who will you be? Esthers and Vashtis in the Labor Movement


This is the last of a 3-part lesson on Purim, the Triangle Factory Fire and Jewish involvement in the Labor Movement at the time. It can be used as a stand alone 50-90 minute lesson. The lesson employs visual, auditory, gustatory and tactile modalities in largely autonomous small groupings.


  • Students will discover the problems associated with the garment industry at the turn of the 20th Century in the U.S.
  • Students will understand the history of certain Jewish women active at that time in the labor movement.
  • Students will analyze the historical events of the rise of the Labor Movement around the garment industry in terms of the female characters in our traditional Purim story.
  • Students will question their own values in relation to the clothes they buy and the type of character they will develop.

Lesson Outline

Review the basic history of the Triangle Fire and working conditions at the time.

Review the characters of Esther and Vashti in the Purim Story.

Illicit characteristics of Esther and Vashti—that Vashti was defiant to the power structure and Esther worked within it. Explain that at 3 of the 4 stations, students will be asked to read, view or listen to primary sources from Clara Lemlich Shavelson, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman and answer questions posed on a card at each station. At one station, students will do piecework (sewing a button and button-hole) and will be “paid” (an orange slice for snack was given) based on the acceptability of the work.

Station 1: The students view pictures of Clara Lemlich Shavelson, strikers at the Uprising of the 20,000 and the 1915 Amalgamated Clothing Workers. Students read highlighted portions of Lemlich’s biography and debate the question of whether her activism was more like that of Esther or Vashti.

Station 2: The students view a picture of Pauline Newman and three other women attending a labor conference. Students read highlighted portions of Pauline Newman's biography and the typescript of the original letter she wrote regarding working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory a few years before the fire. Students debate the question of whether her activism was more like that of Esther or Vashti.

Station 3: The students view a picture of Rose Schneiderman. Students read highlighted portions of Schneiderman's biography and the transcript of a speech she gave to protest the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Students debate the question of whether her activism was more like that of Esther or Vashti.

Station 4: The students are provided with squares of felt, scissors, sewing needles already threaded. The students sew on a button, then cut and blanket stitch a buttonhole. Students are treated as if they are workers doing piecework. They are paid with an orange slice for acceptable work. Students are told about the way that piecework was usually done at home for a penny a piece. Often, all members of the family had to contribute pieces so that they could earn enough to live. This type of work arrangement prevented the formation of labor unions powerful enough to make demands. The rise of the labor movement came after workers moved into factories and could organize in the early 20th Century.

Conclude with the students seated in a circle. Discuss their answers to the questions regarding the characters of the women they learned about regarding whether they are more like Esther or Vashti. May show optional material at this time to elicit more discussion on the factory fire and need for change in working conditions.

Tell the students about more recent events in sweatshops throughout the world using material from "It Never Ends". Discuss. Leave the students with the question: “Who are you—Esther, Vashti or someone else?”

Station Work: Materials

Each station should have a folder with an overview and question written on a 5” X 7” card (text in box), and other materials as listed below (text has selected excerpts highlighted).

Station 1: Clara Lemlich Shavelson

Clara Lemlich Shavelson worked in the garment industry and sparked the 1909 general strike. She was an active Communist organizer throughout her life and founded organizations, organized and protested many activities as a mother and housewife. Read her account. Esther, Vashti or anyone else?

  • Jewish Women's Archive. “Clara Lemlich in a shirtwaist.”(December 6, 2011).
  • Orleck, Annelise. Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive, “Clara Lemlich Shavelson.”
  • Lemlich, Clara, "Life in the Shop", New York Evening Journal, November 28, 1909, reprinted with permission in Leon Stein, ed., Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy (New York: Quadrangle/New Times Book Company, 1977) found at Cornell University-ILR School “Remembering The Triangle Factory Fire:1911-2011, 100 years Later”. (December 6, 2011).
  • Michels, Tony. “Uprising of 20,000 (1909).”Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. (December 6, 2011)
  • Jewish Women's Archive. “Labor-Movement-1 - still image.” (December 6, 2011).

Station 2: Pauline Newman

Pauline Newman worked since age 10, briefly at Triangle. She became V.P. of the WTUL and has a long history as a Labor Activist and writer. Read her history and her account of working at Triangle in a letter. Esther or Vashti?

Station 3: Rose Schneiderman

Rose Schnedierman was the President of the WTUL, an adfisor on the National Labor Advisory Board, and Secretary of Labor for New York state. She spoke at a protest after the fire. Listen to it. Esther or Vashti?

Station 4: Piecework

Before the early 1900’s, garment workers were paid by the piece. Cut a buttonhole. Blanket stitch around it. Sew on button. Get Paid.

Optional Material: Victims and Villains

“Triangle-Fire—still image.”. Front page from Yiddish newspaper, Der Groyser Kundes (The Big Stick). Institution: U.S. Library of Congress, Jewish Women's Archive. (December 10, 2011)

“141 Men and Girls Die in Waist Factory Fire; Trapped High Up in Washington Place Building; Street Strewn with Bodies; Piles of Dead Inside,” New York Times, March 26, 1911, p. 1. Found at Cornell University-ILR School, “Remembering The Triangle Factory Fire: 1911-2011, 100 years Later”. (December 10, 2011)

Conclusion: It Never Ends . . .

Weber, Katherine. “The Factories of Lost Children”, New York Times opinion editorial, March 25, 2006, p. 1. (December 10, 2011)

Progressive Jewish Alliance, Timeline & History: Rising from the Ashes (©2011).

Progressive Jewish Alliance, Ethics in the Workplace: Jewish Texts and Traditions(Retrieved December 10, 2011).

Allyson Mattanah
Full image

Allyson Mattanah is a teacher at the Kesher School of Congregation Beit Tikvah in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mattanah was the 2012 winner of the Inaugural Natalia Twersky Educator Award.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Allyson Mattanah." (Viewed on January 16, 2019) <>.


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