Remembering Aaron Feuerstein z”l, the Mensch of Malden Mills

05 Nov 2021

Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet – Blessed is the true Judge” seems almost superfluous when acts of stunning charity, seismic humanity and sublime kiddush Hashem were someone’s legacy. How can Hashem not favorably judge such an individual?

This morning I learned that Mr. Aaron Feuerstein was niftar last night. Mr. Feuerstein, an Orthodox Jew, was a Boston legend and a business icon. For a time he was a national hero, hailed by President Clinton and former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, as a model corporate citizen.

Mr. Feuerstein was the CEO of Malden Mills, a family textile business founded in the early 1900s that invented materials like Polartec and Polarfleece. In 1995, just two weeks before Christmas, a catastrophic overnight fire burnt Malden Mills to the ground.

At the most festive time of the year for thousands of Mr. Feuerstein’s largely Christian workforce, they faced the stress of unemployment, the anxiety over providing for their families, and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Instead of taking the insurance money and retiring or rebuilding overseas with cheaper labor and production costs, Mr. Feuerstein bucked the trend of the manufacturing industry which was going all in on relocation, automation, downsizing and corporate reengineering and immediately committed to rebuilding in Lawrence, MA, just north of Boston.

In addition he committed to paying the salaries and health benefits of his several thousand employees for three months, totaling tens of millions of dollars. Today workers are largely viewed as disposable and replaceable. Mr. Feuerstein called his employees his businesses greatest asset. His success was their success and their success made his success and so rebuilding anywhere else wasn’t even a question. In what was one of the two most memorable newspaper headlines I recall from growing up, The Boston Globe ran a front page article about Mr. Feuerstein titled “The Mensch Who Saved Christmas”.

Article from the Boston Globe December 17, 1995 with the headline referenced by the author

Within 12 months 85% of Mr. Feuerstein’s employees were back at work.

A news report flashed across my screen this morning announcing the status of Queen Elizabeth’s health, and yet last night a king passed away.

In an interview with 60 Minutes (embedded below), Morley Safer asks Mr. Feuerstein what would be on his tombstone, to which he replies, “Hopefully it will be that he done his damndest, That I don’t give up and that I try to do the right thing.” That probably will not be Mr. Feuerstein’s exact epitaph, but that certainly will be his legacy.

I never spoke to Mr. Feuerstein, except perhaps for a deferential (and reverential) greeting the one or two times we were in the same aisle in our local kosher market, and yet this morning I found myself – a grown man – crying in a bagel shop as I read the news that Mr. Feuerstein had passed away – not out of sadness for what the world lost but out of gratitude and joy for what the world had – because that’s what you do when tzaddikim are escorted through the celestial gates of Gan Eden to receive the embrace of God.


(I encourage everyone to Google Mr. Feuerstein and remember him. Please watch this brief clip of his 60 Minutes interview with Morley Safer:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.