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NEWS: Society for Humanistic Judaism
Commemorates Triangle Waist Factory Fire

Farmington Hills, MI, May 13, 2011 — This year we observe the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Waist Factory Fire in New York City, one of the most unspeakable work-place tragedies since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Working for long hours at low wages in an unsanitary and dangerous environment, the workers at the Triangle Waist Factory, mostly young immigrant women and children, were trapped on the 9th floor of the Asch Building when a fire broke out near closing time.  Because the exit doors were locked, a fire escape collapsed under the weight of the fleeing workers, and fire ladders and hoses could not reach the upper floors of the building, many of the trapped workers leaped to their deaths from the windows while others burned to death in the sweatshop where they had worked. Although the building owners were indicted on charges of manslaughter, they were found not guilty by a jury that determined that there was insufficient proof that the owners knew that the exit doors were locked. While there was no justice for the workers who had died, the fire marked a turning point in labor history. The role that unions could play in protecting workers became clear, and workers effectively organized to bring about safer working conditions and fair wages.

As the struggle for workers’ rights continues to the present time, the Society for Humanistic Judaism has adopted the following resolution marking the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Waist Factory Fire:

Whereas 100 years ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City because the exit doors were  locked; and

Whereas most of the victims were young immigrant women struggling in a new land, unable to affect their unsafe working conditions; and

Whereas, as a response to these workers’ sacrifice,  a national movement was spawned to enact occupational safety standards and establish safe working conditions for all workers,

Therefore be it resolved:  

  • That the Society for Humanistic Judaism acknowledge and commemorate the tragedy of all those who died in or were touched by this tragedy; and
  • That the Society for Humanistic Judaism acknowledge that their sacrifice demanded that all workers be ensured safer working conditions: and 
  • That the Society for Humanistic Judaism continue to encourage legislation that guarantees safe working conditions for all workers.

“Through the twentieth century, workers have benefitted from the safe working conditions that resulted from the tragic deaths in the Triangle Waist Factory Fire,” said Society for Humanistic Judaism Executive Director Bonnie Cousens. “As Humanists, we cannot allow the clock to be turned back to a time when workers’ rights to safe working conditions or a fair wage are curtailed. The dignity and equality of all people are threatened by the ongoing attacks on workers’ rights and we must do all we can to ensure that the legacy of the victims of the Triangle Waist Factory Fire will be preserved.”
The Society for Humanistic Judaism is the national umbrella organization for Humanistic congregations in North America. Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life. Humanistic Jews believe in the human capacity to create a better world rather than in reliance on a supernatural power or an omniscient deity, seeking solutions to human conflicts that respect the dignity, freedom, and self-esteem of every person.
There are currently more than 30 congregations in the United States and Canada affiliated with this growing movement. Forty-nine percent of the United States' 5.5 million Jews say that their outlook is secular and forty-eight percent do not belong to a synagogue or other Jewish organization, according to the American Jewish Identification Survey undertaken by professional statisticians under the auspices of the Center for Jewish Studies at the City University of New York. The Society helps to organize local congregations and havurot, creates and disseminates celebrational and educational materials, provides national programs, including programs for teens and young adults, and serves the needs of individual members who do not live near an existing Humanistic congregation.

For more information, contact the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

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