Everything Happens For A Reason


Esther and her husband Phillip Suston

Hayden Spitzer

Had my great-great grandma gone to work on March 25th 1911, I would not be here today.

In 1910, my great-great grandmother Esther Shafran immigrated to New York. She arrived through Ellis Island from Minsk, Russia, and at only 17 was brought by her brother Louis in order to escape the antisemetic Russian pogroms attacking Jewish villages. Louis left for America with the goal of eventually bringing over his entire family. However he could only save up enough money to bring over one family member, so he chose his favorite sibling, Esther. 

Once Esther arrived in New York, she moved in with her brother and got a job as a seamstress. She worked at the now infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. (Now known as the Brown Building of New York University)

Not only was the pay low and the hours long, the working conditions were incredibly dangerous and inhumane. The doors of the building were locked in order to keep the women from leaving during the day, even to go to the bathroom. All the doors were locked; including the fire escape doors. There were also no efficient fire safety precautions, with only one fire escape. Things like automatic sprinklers were available at the time to prevent fires, however there were no laws which required buildings and companies to install them. 

On March 25th 1911, Esther woke up in the morning for work, but didn’t feel well. Therefore she decided to stay home for the day and rest. Little did she know that this one decision would likely save her life. That day the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned down, killing 146 mainly female employees. 

This fire was entirely preventable, but due to the lack of safety regulations and locked doors, there was no escape. Women jumped to their inevitable deaths, were suffocated by smoke, or burned to death. While co-owners Issac Harris and Max Blanck were initially indicted on charges of manslaughter, they were later found not guilty and acquitted of all charges. However some good did come from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, as legislation was later passed to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future and more federal labor protections that are still around today. 

After initially hearing this story I truly began to believe that everything happens for a reason. What are the odds that the one day Esther didn’t go to work was the day the factory burned down? It is not only a wild coincidence, but also the reason I, and the rest of my family, are here today. This gave me almost a sense of purpose because several people weren’t as lucky as Esther, so is there a reason I’m here? It taught me that one small thing can alter the course of life, so why not pursue my passions and what I love, even if it’s not totally practical. This story also gave me a broader perspective on why things happen, and even if there are bumps in the road, everything works out in the end. 

*The story of this was originally told by my great-great grandmother to my grandmother and from my grandmother to me.