Taking time out of her busy life today is Raisa, the protagonist of Esther Freisner's Threads and Flames. Having moved to New York City from a Polish shtetl at just thirteen in 1910, Raisa became a worker in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory- that ended up going up in flames.
What is the hardest thing to adjust to for life in New York versus your home town in Poland?
It was very hard to get used to the incredible difference in the size of the city, when compared to my shtetl, and all of the noise and bustle that went with it. But it was also wonderfully exciting! I wanted to learn more about such a fascinating place, and that really helped me to get over my feelings of uncertainty and confusion quickly. I am so glad I did!
What is your favorite book?
Ever since I learned how to read, I have been trying so many different books that I don’t know if I ever will be able to say that I have a favorite. Better to ask me to pick one small dish as my favorite from a banquet!
If you could do one thing differently on the day of the fire, what would it be?
Are you asking me this as if I would know the fire was going to happen? I only wish such a thing were possible! So many lives could have been saved. But if you are asking me this question without my knowing the fire was going to happen, just the way things were on that terrible day, then I would have to say I couldn’t have done anything differently. The disaster came over all of us so fast, all we could do was react to it.
I know that sometimes people look back on such horrible events and talk about doing things differently, but that can lead to despair: “Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that? I should have, and now it’s too late! Why, why, why?” Instead of punishing ourselves for things we can no longer change, we should take what we learned from one tragedy and use that knowledge to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
What historical event, since the fire in 1911, would you like to have witnessed?
In my own time, I would have liked to be on the spot to witness the 1920 passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Beyond my own time, I would have liked to witness the discovery of all the marvelous cures and vaccines for the diseases that took so many lives in my day. What a world of miracles!
If there is one thing you could say to teens in the current year, what would it be?
You want me to give advice? But that makes me feel so old! I’d rather just mention something I noticed from my own experiences, which is this: When I had someone besides myself to worry about and take care of and help, it made my own problems a little easier to handle. I had to get through them, even when they seemed impossible to conquer, because someone else was depending on me.
Thank you, Raisa, for your time. Now make sure you guys check out Raisa's story, in stores now!