1: Letter to the editor of the “Jewish Daily Forward,” 1914.
Here is a letter to the editor, originally published in Yiddish, from the original Bintel Brief column. “A Faithful Reader” writes to the editor, asking for advice in the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (and the loss of her bridegroom). In 1911, a fire devastated the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was located in the Asch Building in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The doors of the factory were locked from the outside, and 146 people trapped inside were killed in the fire. They were mostly young Italian and Jewish immigrant women. Public outcry in response to the tragedy brought attention to the unsafe and unethical working conditions in factories. It led to a number of lawsuits against the factory owners and to the proposal and implementation of legislation to improve working conditions.
Suggested Activity: Have students read the letter out loud. Ask if they can summarize, in two or three sentences, the story of the letter and what advice is being sought. Have them share and compare these summaries.
Next, ask students to return to the letter and read it carefully to themselves, paying special attention to mood and tone. What have they learned about the letter-writer based on the language that she uses? Are there words or images that stand out? See if they can create a list of words or phrases that describe the letter-writer, the setting, and the emotions behind the letter. Encourage students to jot down shapes or drawings that encapsulate the words and phrases they have listed. If you have materials available, you can ask students to create collages, illustrations, or visual maps to represent the story of the letter. (Note: if they are drawing, you should encourage them to use whatever style is most comfortable for them—including stick figures. The point is not to draw in a particular or realistic way, but to try to capture the tone, mood, and storyline of the letter in images and words.)
Source: Isaac Metzker, ed., A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward (Doubleday, 1971), 129-131. Reproduced by permission of Black Star Publishing.