From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

Aaron Feuerstein

The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.

William Shakespeare

Aaron Feuerstein practices his Judaism not only in his synagogue but also in his private life and in his business life, too.

However, I must admit to you that until five weeks ago when I read an article about him in the newspaper and when I saw a brief news statement about him on television, I had never even heard his name.

Let me tell you about him.

Aaron Feuerstein is the third generation of Feuersteins to run the Malden, Massachusetts, Textile Mill. Almost every other textile mill has moved out of New England to Mexico, Asia or the South—where the owners of the mills could get cheap labor.

Aaron’s grandfather had started the mill ninety years ago in 1906. Aaron’s father went to work in the mill when he was thirteen. Now Aaron, aged seventy, is the head of the mill.

It was obvious that Aaron was in the dusk of his career, but eighteen hundred workers were still working for him in Malden, and another fourteen hundred were working for him around the world. The company had seen its bad days but now it was producing Polartec and Polarfleece and doing about 400 million dollars in business a year.

However, on December 11, a fire spread quickly through the textile mill. Three of the nine buildings were totally destroyed. Thirty-three people were injured. Eighteen hundred workers in Malden were out of work two weeks before Christmas.

People were saying: “Feuerstein is seventy years old. He’s got plenty of money. He doesn’t have to work any longer. He’s insured. He’ll take the money and retire in Florida—and we’ll all be unemployed. Some Christmas this is going to be.”

However, Aaron called a meeting to be held in the gym of the Central Catholic High School. One thousand workers showed up at that meeting.

When Aaron walked in there was total silence. Then there was a murmur. And then the murmur became a roar. Finally, everyone was cheering for Aaron.

They knew that Aaron was a religious man. Every single day, he spent an hour memorizing Hebrew poets and English poets. Every week, he not only studied his Judaism, but he actually lived it. People were shouting: “Aaron, Aaron, Aaron, Aaron.”

Aaron had never let them down in the past. He had always paid them the highest salaries in the textile industry. However, his mill had just gone up in flames, and they did not know what he was going to do. All their friends in the other mills were now unemployed. They wondered whether this was also going to be their fate, too.

Then Aaron Feuerstein ascended the platform and addressed the one thousand workers. He said: “We’re down—but we’re not out. Let me tell you what is now going to happen.

“Number one, for at least the next thirty days, and possibly longer, all employees will receive full salaries;

“Number two, your health insurance has already been paid for you for the next ninety days;

“Number three, in three weeks, by January 2, we will restart partial operations again; “Number four, within ninety days we will be 100 percent operational again.

“Remember, we may be down—but we are not out. Don’t stay down on the floor. Join me—and let’s get up together.”

For a moment, there was total silence. But then everyone began screaming and shouting, kissing each other and hugging each other.

One of the workers, Rene Gingros said: “I’ve been in textiles fifty-five years, so I’m at the end of the line. But I’ll tell you, this is the best Christmas present I ever got—far and away.”

Rabbi Jack Segal
Previously appeared in
Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

More stories from our partners