The Mentsch of Malden Mills

Picture of Rabbi Paysach Krohn

Rabbi Paysach Krohn

Rabbi Paysach Krohn is a Rav, mohel, author, and lecturer on topics related to ethics and spiritual growth. He is the author of the bestselling "Maggid" series of books for ArtScroll, inspired by the stories of Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, who was known as the "Maggid of Jerusalem". He also authored a seminal work on Bris Milah also published by ArtScroll.

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"The teachings of the Sages were always on Aaron’s mind. He would espouse them to his workers and plant managers, be they Jewish or not, and he applied their lessons in a practical and considerate manner. At one of the first meetings after the fire, when one thousand of his workers gathered to hear him in a huge auditorium, he said: The Jewish Sages teach: Let your fellow’s money be as dear to your as your own." (Pirkei Avot 2:17)

Aaron Feuerstein owned Malden Mills, a textile plant comprising nine buildings, in Lawrence, MA, that employed more than three thousand people. On the evening of December 11, 1995, the worst fire of the 20th century in the state of Massachusetts destroyed most of the plant. Three buildings were burned to the ground, while the other six were severely damaged. Though he was fully covered for the loss by insurance, he did not even consider shuttering the plant. He said afterward:

“My first thought was the teaching from Pirkei Avot 2:6 my father often quoted,“In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” He announced publicly, “I am not throwing three thousand people out of work two weeks before their holiday.” 

Not only did he begin rebuilding Malden Mills as soon as it was feasible, but he paid the salaries of his workers for the next three months and covered their health insurance for the next 180 days. When asked to explain his determination and resilience, he gave credit to his grandfather Henry, who had founded Malden Mills in 1906, and his father Samuel, who inherited the mill and often told his son:

“But the crown of a good name surpasses them all.” (Pirkei Avot 4:17)

The teachings of the Sages were always on Aaron’s mind. He would espouse them to his workers and plant managers, be they Jewish or not, and he applied their lessons in a practical and considerate manner. At one of the first meetings after the fire, when one thousand of his workers gathered to hear him in a huge auditorium, he said:

“The Jewish Sages teach: Let your fellow’s money be as dear to your as your own.” (Pirkei Avot 2:17)

The room erupted in wild applause. Talking to his fifteen key plant managers, he said they would rebuild quickly. When they asked how it could be possible, he said, “Remember, everybody, we’re playing to a higher Judge. Don’t tell me the job can’t be done.” When the mill issued a holiday bonus, it included a note from Mr. Feuerstein: 

“Do not despair. God bless each of you.” 

Though by nature publicity shy, Mr. Feuerstein became a national hero. He was even invited to attend President Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address to Congress the following month. Indeed, by the end of 1996, the plant was rebuilt.

(This story is printed in Rabbi Krohn’s book,The Grandeur of the Maggid)

Aaron Feuerstein, died on November 4, 2022 at the age of 95. In the main obituary section of The Wall Street Journal, the editors remembered a Jewish industrialist who failed by modern metrics. His textile mill burned down. When he rebuilt it, he overextended himself and eventually lost control of his mill through bankruptcy proceedings in 2001.

When asked by The New York Times about Mr. Feuerstein’s actions in the wake of the Malden Mills fire, and about the company’s precarious economic prospects, Barbara Lee Toffler, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business and an expert on corporate responsibility, suggested that “it may have been that the desire to take principled action somehow blinded him to thinking long term.”

She had it exactly wrong, of course. Long term was precisely what he was thinking.

(Courtesy of Aish.com)

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