Tonight on HBO: Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags - about Jewish Workers in NYC Garment District


A little Yiddish goes a long way as the evocative title of a documentary premiering tonight on HBO.

Like the first word of its name, Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags combines equal parts affection, nostalgia and social commentary as it traces the history of New York City's Garment District, where tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants took their first jobs as American citizens.

Laboring alongside other newcomers, largely of Italian descent, the Jewish workers of the Garment District played a key role in making New York a center of the clothing industry - not as designers or merchants, but as tailors, seamstresses and machine operators. Struggling in the sweatshops of turn-of-the-century New York, they also stood at the vanguard of the movement for humane working conditions, leading the fight to unionize and paving the way, the film argues, for many of the innovations that would become a part of the New Deal.

Much of the movement's success came in the aftermath of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 - in which more than 140 female garment workers, trapped on the upper stories of their building, burned to death or died leaping from the factory's windows. "Most of them could barely speak English," The New York Times reported. "Many of them came from Brooklyn."

Never glamorous, working in the Garment District would become a reliable and honorable way of supporting a family, at least during the district's golden age in the 1940s and 1950s. A gateway into America's expanding middle class, the area also became a refuge for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany - including Julius Stern, a 50-year veteran of the Garment District who would rise to the presidency of Donna Karan, Inc.

But even as many of America's manufacturers continued to enjoy the country's remarkable post-war expansion, the Garment District began to suffer the effects of a new economic blight - a phenomenon now known as outsourcing, which has reduced the proportion of Americans' clothes made in the US from 95 percent in 1965 to just 5% today. An old TV commercial excerpted in Schmatta implores consumers to buy US-made clothing out of patriotism - a plea that seems both poignant and quaint in the current climate.

Jewish Americans' move away from the garment district and up the socioeconomic ladder has become readily apparent, says Marc Levin, the film's director. Jokingly saying you're in the "schmatta business" - the word means "rag" in Yiddish - no longer means much today. "We were surprised by how many people didn't know what it meant at the [Fashion Institute of Technology] graduation," Levin says.

Nevertheless, he continues, the word "grabbed people's attention, even if they didn't know the language. For those who did, it brought a smile to their face - there are so many people all over America who can trace their family narratives to the Garment District."

SOURCE:  Jerusalem Post



Copyright © Jewish Internet Defense Force
All Rights Reserved

LEGAL:
The views expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of the JIDF. The content is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company or individual. This site's intention is to do no harm, to not injure others, defame, or libel. All data and information provided on this site is for informational, educational, and/or entertainment purposes only. The Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) makes no representations as to accuracy, currentness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use, or access to this site. We are not responsible for translation or interpretation of content. We are not responsible for defamatory statements bound to government, religious or other laws from the reader’s country of origin. All information is provided on an as-is basis with no warranties, and confers no rights. We are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, opinions expressed, privacy policies, products or services or for any damages or losses, directly or indirectly, caused or alleged to have been caused as a result of your use or reliance on such information on the Jewish Internet Defense Force site. This site includes links to other sites and blogs operated by third parties. These links are provided as a convenience to you and as an additional avenue of access to the information contained therein. We have not reviewed all of the information on other sites and are not responsible for the content of any other sites or any products or services that may be offered through other sites. The inclusion of these links in no way indicates their endorsement, support or approval of the contents of this site or the policies or positions of the JIDF. We have the right to edit, remove or deny access to content that is determined to be, in our sole discretion, unacceptable. These Terms and Conditions of Use apply to you when you view, access or otherwise use this blog and the Website. The JIDF is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
Related Posts with Thumbnails