WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is all about getting folks to work together to climb out of a COVID-stricken economy.
That might explain why the first menorah lit by a Jewish spouse to a vice president came from the home of a businessman revered for paying employees for months while he rebuilt a factory destroyed in a fire.
Yair Rosenberg, who blogs on Jewish issues at The Atlantic, tracked down the origins of the menorah in a photo that Second Spouse Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish husband to Vice President Kamala Harris, posted on social media the first night of Hanukkah.
Staffers for the Second Couple were considering which menorah to use — there’s always a story behind the candelabras featured at White House Hanukkah lightings. One came across an obituary of Aaron Feuerstein, who died on November 4 at 95.
In December 1995, Feuerstein’s redbrick textile factory complex caught on fire, causing one of the largest blazes in Massachusetts history. Work for the factory’s 1,400 employees stopped as it was rebuilt, but Feuerstein kept paying them, reportedly at a cost of $25 million.
At the time, the Boston Globe quoted Feuerstein as saying, “I’m not throwing 3,000 people out of work two weeks before Christmas.” Feuerstein also explained after the fire that he was guided by Jewish tradition. “When all is moral chaos, this is the time for you to be a mensch,” he said, a quote that earned him the nickname of the “mensch of Malden.”
Feuerstein’s mensch status was further cemented by the Second Couple’s decision to honor him by lighting his menorah this year.
A source familiar with the developments told The Forward in a Wednesday report that Harris and Emhoff were impressed by Feuerstein’s commitment to his workers.
“He was a hero to workers,” the source said.
Staffers contacted the Feuerstein family who loaned the Second Family the menorah, hand-painted by Feuerstein’s granddaughter, Marika Shosh Feuerstein.
“My grandfather is still shining bright, which means his values and Chesed live on,” she posted on Facebook, using a Hebrew term for charity.
So honored that the Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris is lighting the menorah I painted for my…
The design on the menorah is a blue and white rose with a vine, “a symbol of what my family and what my grandfather has gone through,” Marika Feuerstein told The Forward.
Feuerstein said her grandfather was “a proud Democrat” and that it is “an incredible honor” that the second family used it as they were still sorrowed his death.
“A menorah is a vessel for light, especially in darkness. This has been a dark time for our family,” she said. “To see his menorah in the vice president’s residence means his light is still shining.