Remember The Triangle Fire Coalition

Triangle Fire Open Archive

Memorial

Stanton Street Triangle Fire 100th Yurtzeit

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Memorial invitation

Contributed by : Elissa Sampson

Object # 2211

We treated the date of March 25th, as a special yurtzeit; that is as the yearly anniversary of death. Since we are an Orthodox Shul, we wanted to mark it in a traditional Eastern European way that would have been expected on the anniversary of someone’s death. This is an important part of mourning for the dead, much like a proper funeral. Out of respect, we chose to do it on the American calendar rather than the Hebrew calendar since we knew that others would be mourning on that day.

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Commentary

We are located at 180 Stanton Street and our full name is English is CONGREGATION BNAI JACOB ANSCHEI BRZEZAN, the people of Brzezan. This is a small town in Galitzia, a shtetl as it’s called in Yiddish, in one of the poorest areas of Eastern Europe. Many of those died in the Fire came from this area. Immigrants from those towns formed landsmandshaften, or hometown societies to help those who came to America and also to help send money back. Many of the landsmandshaften were religious and were shuls in the Lower East Side such as ours which was founded in 1898.

We treated the date of March 25th, as a special yurtzeit; that is as the yearly anniversary of death. Since we are an Orthodox Shul, we wanted to mark it in a traditional Eastern European way that would have been expected on the anniversary of someone’s death. This is an important part of mourning for the dead, much like a proper funeral. Out of respect, we chose to do it on the American calendar rather than the Hebrew calendar since we knew that others would be mourning on that day.

We wanted to make sure that we noted all those who perished as well as paid attention to Becky Neubauer since we had “adopted” her this year. We Chalked her name on March 25th outside the Shul and around the corner on Clinton Street where she had lived. And we put a yurtzeit candle on the triangle with her name so that people in the neighborhood would understand that someone dead was being remembered. When we chalked, we also wrote zion”lamed, meaning zichrona lebrucha, her memory should only be for a blessing.

We decided to do the prayers as part of the regular Saturday morning Orthodox service held at the Shulon March 26th. We designated a person to say Mourner’s kaddish (normally the prayer is said by a family member who mourns during the first year of death and then says the kaddish as the yearly anniversary prayer ). But since those who perished do not have a kaddishel, a person who says kaddish for them, so we asked a member who is young and is a Legal Aid attorney to say it.

We also asked a younger member who is a cantor to chant a version of El Molei Rachamim that the Shul’s Rabbbi, Josh Yuter, helped craft (this is a different prayer for the dead typically said in conjunction with a memorial service). (See PDF attachment.)

To make sure people understood that this was a special yurtzeit, we sent out email newsletters, flyers and other materials inviting people to come to the service, and indeed it was well attended. We tried to make sure that the Italian families would know that we were doing this through inviting them by Facebook since we had a strong sense that this would be the respectful thing to do.

At the service we had a handout that the Rabbi had prepared to give people. It had a short history of the Fire, gave people the words for the El Molei Rachamim prayer in English and Hebrew, and then listed the names of all who had perished.

After services, another member had prepared a memorial kiddush, that is a traditional light meal that is associated with yurtzeit, Since the yearly anniversary of someone’s death is when Jews traditionally remember that person, typically this involves feeding people, saying prayers on behalf of the dead, and perhaps most importantly by giving to charity on behalf of the dead.

For Eastern European Jews such as those who worked in the Triangle Factory, the yurtzeit, or anniversary of death, would have been,a much more important date than a birthdate. For our congregation, it was particularly important to us to say these prayers since we really could not know if the newly named dead, had ever had the traditional prayers said for them.

When you say kaddish or El Molei Rachamim for someone, you are taking on the task of remembrance on their behalf; it is a somber and important responsibility and usually only a very close relative takes on that obligation. It is not done collectively in the sense of a group of people remembering another group except under rare and tragic circumstances such as pogroms, or the Holocaust itself. Jewishly, the Triangle Fire was called the Fire Churban, meaning it was deemed in 1911 and remains in memory as a collective tragedy, one that evokes the destruction of the Temple, of a city, or of a people.

Some of us had personal connections to the garment movement; some did not, However, everyone understood that those who died did so because their employers wanted to make more money at the expense of impoverished immigrants.

We crossed many generations in putting this together at the Shul and in doing so, felt part of a larger community of mourners in the Lower East Side, New York City, Bangladesh and elsewhere.

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