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100 years after deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, its Jewish and Italian workers get a memorial

(New York Jewish Week) – As Allison and Rebecca Kestenbaum stood in front of a building in Greenwich Village on Wednesday, they were thinking about another set of sisters: their relatives Celia and Bess Eisenberg, who, as teenagers, worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Bess called in sick on the day that a horrific fire tore through the garment factory. Celia died, along with 145 others.

The tragedy transformed U.S. labor law and the building that housed the factory, now a New York University science building, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003. But until this week, there had never been a permanent memorial paying tribute to the fire’s victims.

One was unveiled Wednesday at the site of the factory on the corner of Washington Place and Green Street near Washington Square Park. The memorial was conceived by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, a nonprofit group of descendants and labor advocates dedicated to preserving the memory of the mostly Jewish and Italian immigrant women who died that day and the fire’s impact on the organized labor movement. 

“It’s remarkable to see people showing up who maybe didn’t have a connection but who feel moved by it,” said Allison Kestenbaum, who brought her two children to the unveiling from their home in San Diego. “This triggers emotions for a lot of people and opens our eyes to something that so many didn’t know anything about.” 

According to the story that’s been passed down through in the Kestenbaum family, Celia, just 17, went to work alone on March 25, 1911, a warm Saturday. 

Near the end of the workday, a cigarette butt ignited fabric scraps inside the factory, on the ninth floor of the Asch Building. As the flames began to spread, the women who worked there found that they had been locked in from the outside by management, who wanted to prevent the workers, who made roughly $7 a week, from stealing inventory as well as keep out union organizers. The fire was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in New York City history.

The memorial, in the making for more than a decade, includes a massive stainless steel ribbon that floats horizontally along the edge of the building — the names and ages of the victims are cut out of the ribbon. A stone panel underneath the ribbon reflects the names back to the viewers and also bears quotes from witness and survivor testimonies. On Wednesday, the reflective stone panel was also adorned with 146 white roses in honor of the victims.

Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke at the unveiling ceremony of a memorial for the 146 victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Oct. 12, 2023. (Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

“It’s getting some really beautiful reactions,” Uri Wegman, who, along with Richard Joon Yoo, was one of the two architects of the memorial, told the New York Jewish Week. “You never know how people are going to respond and I feel like we are accomplishing exactly what we designed the memorial to do, to transport and reorient people” to the events of the tragedy, the Israeli-born architect said.

Over the next few months, a vertical steel column will be installed to showcase the height from which workers jumped in a futile attempt to escape the flames.

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition organizes an annual event on the anniversary of the fire, in partnership with Workers United, the New York City Central Labor Council, the FDNY and New York University.

“I’ve waited a really long time to say three words to you — three powerful words, and three extraordinarily sweet words: We did it,” said Mary Anne Trasciatti, the president of the coalition, at Wednesday’s unveiling ceremony. “By honoring the Triangle workers with this memorial, we are making a statement about the dignity and humanity of every worker, past and present. We are showing our support for baristas, auto workers, nurses, teachers, farm workers, warehouse workers, coal miners.”

Unions from around the city and beyond — including the International Ladies Garment Workers, the Steamfitters Union, the Laborer’s International Union, Actor’s Equity, United Automobile Workers and the SAG-AFTRA Union — sent representatives to the unveiling ceremony.

At the ceremony, labor organizers reminded the crowd about how the fire jumpstarted labor reforms and workers’ rights efforts, including activism and legislation that led to safety protocols, workers’ compensation, a 40-hour work week, minimum wage and pensions. They also used the opportunity to speak about workers’ rights today, pledging continuing support for the Hollywood actors’ and United Auto Workers strikes. 

Hundreds of people, including descendants of victims, union members, local officials and labor activists came to the unveiling of the memorial, Oct. 11, 2023. (Julia Gergely)

The Triangle fire — with its large number of Jewish, Eastern European immigrant victims — also “galvanized the Jewish community, which had an already active labor base,” Ann Toback, the chief executive officer of the Worker’s Circle, told the New York Jewish Week. 

Founded in 1900 as a fraternal organization to help Eastern European immigrants adjust to American society and workplaces, the Workers Circle was a central base for Jewish labor activists. In 1909, it helped organize an 11 week long general strike consisting of 20,000 young Jewish women in the shirtwaist industry. One of the only holdouts of the strike was the Triangle company.

After the tragedy in 1911, Jewish union organizers Clara Lemlich and Rose Schneiderman marched from the site of the tragedy to Cooper Square to demand new changes and more organizing.

“It did spark a new outcry of activism and The Workers Circle at that time was very much a center of labor activism,” Toback said. Jewish labor activists and Workers Circle members were also at the forefront of expanding the membership and organizing power of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, which became one of the country’s largest labor unions after the fire. The Workers Circle was a sponsor of the victims’ memorial at the site of the factory.

In remarks, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul shared that her grandfather, uncles and father worked in coke ovens at the Bethlehem Steel plant, itself the site of multiple fatal industrial accidents.

“I am so proud to be part of this effort to honor the names of those who were lost in that horrific inferno,” Hochul said. She called New York “the birthplace of the workers’ rights movement” because of “what happened right on this block.” New York State allocated $1.5 million in state funds to build the memorial.

A steel ribbon with cutouts of the names of the victims wraps around the former site of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory on the northwest corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. (Julia Gergely)

Hochul, who has been trying to maintain support for immigrants as the city struggles with the recent influx of nearly 125,000 migrants, connected the fire to the present day.  

“Our workers deserve to be protected and we will fight to make sure they have those rights,” Hochul said. “This state is so great because of the immigrants, the migrants who came here. ​​Let them work. We need them.”

Julie Su, the Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor, also addressed the crowd. “We can imagine the black plume of smoke up in the air, the flames that spread from floor to floor, the panic of the workers who ran and found closed exits and broken fire escapes,” she said. “Their cries for help and then the thud of bodies as they began to jump one after another.”

Allison Kestenbaum said she has always felt a strong connection to her relative and other victims of the fire. “I went to NYU. If I had been there two generations earlier, an immigrant, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college — I would have been a seamstress in a sweatshop,” she said. 

“It also relates to what’s going on in our present and our future,” she added. “The story and everything that came after is known throughout our country and in so many parts of the world for the tragedy and for all the changes that it inspired and continues to inspire. It’s very meaningful.”

The post 100 years after deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, its Jewish and Italian workers get a memorial appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Want to Talk to Your Friends About Jew Hatred? Read This Book

Noa Tishby. Photo: Courtesy

Considering the surge of Jew hatred in America today, two questions challenge the Jewish community: how did we get here, and where do we go next?

No single answer suffices, but a recently published book — Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew by Noa Tishby and Emmanuel Acho — does an admirable job answering both questions. Their book is a chronicle of conversations between the two friends, one a white Jew, Noa, and the other a Black Christian, Emmanuel. In their dialogues, they explore the origins of the current surge of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and antisemitic sentiments in America today.

Noa explains that for millennia, the world shunned or exiled Jews wherever they landed, which forced them to adapt to diverse environments — physically, culturally, and spiritually. That’s how different Jewish ethnic communities evolved.

Although Jews are ethnically diverse, their detractors claim they gain an advantage because of their “whiteness.”

But Noa points out that this supposed whiteness has not protected them from antisemitic attacks in the past or in the present. Jews are a meager two percent of the American population, yet according to the FBI they are victims of more than 60 percent of all religion-based crimes.

Right-wing extremists do not consider Jews white; left-wing extremists consider Jews as privileged and white. The truth is Jews come in all colors and hues. There are white Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, and there are Jews of color from a variety of countries: Sephardic Jews from Spain, Beta Jews from Ethiopia, Cochin Jews from India, Kaifeng Jews from China, and Mizrachi Jews from the Levant and North Africa. Neither color nor DNA is a litmus test for Jewishness.

Noa deftly deflates the all-too-common canards about Jews: they are money hoarders, powerful, disloyal, cheats, bent on world domination, or greedy, dirty, evil, and race polluters.

She explains that when the dominant society holds those mistaken beliefs, regrettably it filters down to the targeted minority who begin to believe those falsehoods, and that leads to self-hatred. Although Jews have been champions for minority causes and supporters of the oppressed groups for decades, there is an absence of reciprocal support for Jews. In fact, the same groups that received help from Jewish allies have become antagonistic to the only Jewish State in the world, as well as to those who support her.

Noa and Emmanuel agree that the recent outrageous and disingenuous responses of university presidents, when asked if students and faculty calling for the genocide of the Jews is hate-speech, speaks volumes about their lack of moral clarity. The same lack of ethical values applies to the morally confused students and professors who justify and support the atrocities Hamas committed on Oct 7, while endorsing the terrorists’ call for the eradication of Israel.

Emmanuel was most curious to learn about the term Zionist, because it seemed to him to be the root of the tension between Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

Noa gave this succinct definition: “Zionism is the Jewish people’s right to have self-governance on parts of their ancestral land.” She added, “That’s it. It’s Israel’s right to exist.” And “anti-Zionism is the rejection of Jewish nationhood,” and that is a hallmark of antisemitism.

Emmanuel countered Noa’s explanation by saying that the Black community draws parallels between what they believe Jews did to the Palestinians, and what Americans did to Native Americans. Noa said that is not analogous, because indisputable archaeological evidence shows that the Land of Israel dates to antiquity and “the Jewish people are indigenous to the land.”  In short, the Jewish people reclaimed their ancestral land.

On the other hand, when the first Europeans landed on the shores of America, they found Native Americans, but not a trace of English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French artifacts, language, or culture.

Noa asserts that today, the very countries who expelled the Jews over the centuries, are now trying to deny them the land of their ancestors. And the United Nations, which helped found the modern State of Israel, is determined to destroy its own creation.

As for for the effort to boycott Israel, Noa says that it is entirely antisemitic, because it started before the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. In 1945, the Arab League called for a boycott of all Jewish products, not just Jewish products made in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa — but all products made by Jews anywhere in the world. The boycott has never been about the land; it has always been about the Jews.

The battle against systemic antisemitism and systemic racism forged a natural bond joining Noa and Emmanuel. Emmanuel quipped, “Your career is what you are paid for, and your calling is what you were made for.”

In that sense Noa and Emmanuel “were made” to co-author this book, which is not for the faint of heart. But it delves into issues that polite company prefers to ignore, because it is easier to ignore this hatred of Jews than face the truth of the situation.

Since retiring from IBM Steve Wenick has served as a freelance book reviewer for HarperCollins Publishing and Simon & Schuster. His reviews and articles have appeared in The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Jewish Voice of Southern New Jersey. Steve and his wife are residents of Voorhees, New Jersey.

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As Threat of Hezbollah War Rises, Here’s What You Should Know About Israeli-Lebanese Relations

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

Israel’s relations with Lebanon have historically  been less hostile than with some of its other neighbors — despite having no formal diplomatic ties.  Today, however, the Israeli-Lebanese border is an extremely dangerous place, with widespread concerns about a major war breaking out in the near future.

So, how did we get here?

Israel’s War of Independence began in 1947 as a civil war between Palestinian Arabs, supported by irregular Arab forces from across the region, and Jews. After David Ben-Gurion declared the Jewish state on May 14, 1948, the armies of five neighboring states, including Lebanon, attacked Israel. The pretext was to  “protect Palestine” — but they had their own agendas, which was to destroy Israel and grab as much land as they could.

After the war, Israel reached an armistice agreement with Lebanon on March 23, 1949. Israel’s armistice agreements with Arab states were not final peace treaties, because Arab leaders still refused to accept the Jewish State’s existence.

For decades, Israel heard little from Lebanon, the only neighbor that did not attack Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.  One reason Lebanon was the least antagonistic was its significant Christian population, which made the Lebanese leadership less susceptible to the anti-Israel hostility in other parts of the region.

The 1970s were a terrible era for Lebanon, for a myriad of reasons. The country effectively lost its independence and became dominated by Syria, a Soviet client state. Making matters worse, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) settled in Lebanon after being expelled from Jordan.

The PLO wreaked havoc in various ways, including targeting Israeli communities near the border with rocket fire and other attacks. This provoked the devastating 1982 Lebanon War between Israel and the PLO, which was fought on Lebanese territory.

While the IDF was successful in compelling Arafat and the PLO to leave Lebanon for Tunisia, a new force filled the vacuum in southern Lebanon: Hezbollah, a terrorist group and proxy of Iran’s extremist regime.

Hezbollah wasted no time creating terror locally and internationally. On October 23, 1983, just a year after the conclusion of Israel’s war with the PLO, a Hezbollah suicide bombing at an American Marine barracks in Beirut murdered 241 American service members. The attack is just one of several  devastating suicide bombings that have been carried out by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s suicide bombing murdered 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. That Argentina has never successfully prosecuted anyone for the crime is indicative of the depth of Hezbollah’s penetration in South America.

As the culmination of meetings beginning with the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and the Oslo Accords, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat met at the Camp David Summit in July 2000, to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat ultimately rejected a proposed two-state solution that would have established an independent Palestinian state in all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank — a decision President Clinton called a “colossal historical blunder.”

Two months earlier, the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon, after spending nearly two decades keeping terrorist threats away from Israel’s northern border. Some analysts believe Israel’s unilateral disengagement played a role in stiffening Arafat’s resolve to reject a final peace agreement. Wait long enough, his thinking went, and the Israelis will simply abandon territory. The upside of Israel’s withdrawal was that withdrawal fulfilled UN Security Council Resolution 425.

The next major flashpoint in Israeli-Lebanese relations was in 2006, when Hezbollah kidnapped and killed three Israeli soldiers while simultaneously launching rockets into Israeli communities as a diversion. This aggression sparked a 34-day conflict between Hezbollah and Israel that was also fought in Lebanon, and constituted the most recent major escalation in the area, until October 7.

Lebanon hasn’t been a fully independent state since the 1970s due to Syrian and Iranian (Hezbollah) interference. In their effort to destroy Israel, outside forces largely destroyed Lebanon.

To this day, more than 60,000 Israelis are internally displaced from their homes in the north due to over countless thousands of rocket, missile, and drone attacks in northern Israel, the vast majority of which were fired by Hezbollah, since October 7.

This is the picture that the American public should familiarize itself with as all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah looms.

The lack of historical context, media bias, and disinformation on social media has created mass confusion during this escalation, just as it has during the October 7th war. With a 24/7 news cycle bringing content without context, understanding this history is necessary to properly understand what Israel is up against in the region.

Rabbi Matthew Abelson is executive director of RabbisUNITED, a non-denominational Rabbinic division of StandWithUs, with hundreds of members dedicated to fighting antisemitism and supporting a safe and secure State of Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.

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Despite Vast Evidence to the Contrary, Media Is Still Pushing Lies About Food Availability in Gaza

Aerial view shows a World Central Kitchen (WCK) barge loaded with food arriving off Gaza, where there is risk of famine after five months of Israel’s military campaign, in this handout image released March 15, 2024. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS

We’ve been through this before.

In June, the IPC Famine Review Committee said there is no famine in the Gaza Strip as of yet. The UN subsequently acknowledged the IPC’s latest report. HonestReporting has also done its due diligence to understand what is really happening in Gaza.

But now, UN special “experts” are still claiming there’s “no doubt” that there is a famine:

With the death of these children from starvation despite medical treatment in central Gaza, there is no doubt that famine has spread from northern Gaza into central and southern Gaza.

They also despicably repeated the lie that Israel is committing a genocide, even after though the biased International Court of Justice (IJC) decided that Israel’s fight against Hamas in Gaza is not considered a genocide.

To begin with, UN officials or those claiming to be UN experts cannot just declare an accusation of this nature in an unofficial capacity. Second, it’s all just opinion.

That’s all it took, however, for the media take the lead. They apparently think that it’s impossible to understand the inference that there must be a famine if bodies like the IPC put out real data reports every few months over whether or not there is evidence of a famine in Gaza.

But who cares about logic, right?

Journalists understand very well how the public consumes information, and they know how it views bodies like the UN — that people take their word as an official authority. Yet, the media continue to publish articles, irresponsibly portraying the statement of these UN “experts” as if it is an official UN one.

Or take this CNN piece, which makes it seem like the claim of a famine is an official UN statement:

The recent deaths of more Palestinian children due to hunger and malnutrition in the Gaza Strip indicates that famine has spread across the entire enclave, according to a United Nations statement, citing independent experts.

These “experts” are part of UN Special Procedures, and they are volunteers, not official UN staff.

Therefore, many of these people are public about their own personal opinions, like one UN special rapporteur, antisemite Francesca Albanese.

Francesca Albanese has previously apologized after antisemitic posts on her personal social media profile were uncovered and has likened the Jewish state to Nazism.

More on Albanese’s deeply compromised background from @UNWatch‘s @HillelNeuer.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 10, 2024

One of Albanese’s most recent offenses was being caught lying about Gaza casualty figures via her X account (formerly Twitter) by making false claims about the contents of a letter in The Lancet, which made a careless estimation that 186,000 deaths could be “attributed” to the Gaza toll — even though this hasn’t happened or been proven by any body.

Another “expert,” Michael Fakhri, has a history of allowing his bias to cloud his judgment.

Michael Fakhri. As @SimonPlosker noted in 2021 in @Jerusalem_Post, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food spent his time promoting the boycott campaign against Israel while ignoring human rights abuser states that let their people starve.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 10, 2024

Some of the UN special rapporteurs signed off at the bottom of the letter seem to even have little relevance outside their volunteer work at the UN. Nonetheless, when one sees “UN experts” in the headline, they don’t realize that these people don’t represent the UN in an official capacity.

The public also doesn’t know that some, like Albanese and Fakhri, have an anti-Israel agenda. The biggest question then remains: when will the media take caution before spreading the propaganda of agenda-driven “UN experts?”

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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