Nobody shops for shirtwaists anymore. Even those who favor women’s tailored blouses are unlikely to know their traditional name. The word shirtwaist still recalls the worst factory fire in the history of New York City, on March 11, 1911, at the Triangle Waist Factory, also known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. That day, at least 146 workers died, most of them immigrant Jewish women, many jumping through the blazing windows to their deaths. The building, at the corner of Washington and Greene Streets in Greenwich Village, still stands.
David Grubin’s epic documentary about Jewish life and accommodation in the United States begins and ends with scenes of the ship that brought 23 Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Brazil to safety in New Amsterdam. In between, over the six hours of "The Jewish Americans," are such staples of American-Jewish history as Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan, the immigrant experience on the Lower East Side and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
But it’s more than New York City.